The EastLife project brought creative writing students together with local elders, creating an exchange of stories and ideas that resulted in the creation of a book with a distinctively east London character.
Students connected with older residents through organisations such as AgeUK and community centres such as Canning Town Library. During conversations that sometimes lasted hours, students recorded stories that ran the gamut from the inspiring to the charmingly bizarre – in one instance, a woman recalled being chased through east London by a bull.
The end result, 'EastLife: An Anthology of Life Writing', juxtaposed the autobiographical writings of 15 students and graduates with their creative interpretations of the memories of the elder east Londoners.
“EastLife is a really exciting project that came to life thanks to the university and their Civic Engagement Fund, said project leader Tessa McWatt, a reader in creative writing.
“We thought we could create a book that has life writing written by our students and stories by elders, and that it would be an amazing piece of history and literature as well, because it’s creative writing and not just oral history,” she said.
Students were inspired by talking to their older companions and many of their subjects appreciated the chance to connect with a younger person. Ms McWatt said that a project like EastLife shows people that UEL is not an ivory tower, but a place that exists in a community.
“EastLife is linked to UEL’s civic engagement because it connects different parts of the community with each other in a way that is good for students, the University and the community itself,” Ms McWatt said.
There are now plans to expand EastLife into other parts of the United Kingdom.