Memories are golden for users of a Norwich day centre

Peter WalshIt has just 76 pages and no photographs, but the words contained within the bound purple covers have helped bring the past back to life for users of a threatened Norwich day centre.Peter Walsh

It has just 76 pages and no photographs, but the words contained within the bound purple covers have helped bring the past back to life for users of a threatened Norwich day centre.

It was a couple of years ago that Sheila Hawkes, manager of the Essex Rooms, decided to compile a book of memories from people using the Essex Street-based centre to help record their experiences and take them back to happier times, while at the same time getting them to exercise their minds.

A group of almost 30 people were brought together and interviewed one-on-one, to recall memories from their past or snapshots of their lives locked somewhere in their distant past.

The book, Memories from the Essex Rooms, which is separate to individual life stories that the centre produces for some, offers a unique insight into the lives of a whole spectrum of different people who each have very different memories of different times in their life.

One of the interviewees, Norah, remembers growing up in York Street, Norwich, when the city was bombed during the war. She said: 'The first night of the blitz started about 8 o'clock. Other times it would just start after tea and it would go on the whole night.

'We always knew when Yarmouth was getting bombed because if we looked towards the coast, we could see all the flashes of the guns.'

Most Read

Another contributor, Mary, remembered working at the old Bally's shoe factory in Norwich at the age of 14, while in a later chapter Iris recalled being buried because of an air raid blast over Bowthorpe cemetery.

Mrs Hawkes said: 'Memories are the most valuable possession any individual can have and have the ability to make you laugh and also to make you cry.

'Memories are priceless. My reminiscence work over the years has made me so aware of the importance of sharing memories and every individual has some special memory to share.

'This book has enabled individuals have quality time to relive their memories and has brought such self worth to those involved.'

A number of those people featured in the book, which was funded following a community grant and which is available to buy from the centre, have passed away since it was published.

Mrs Hawkes said the dream is to use money generated by the sale of the book to compile a second edition that could capture the thoughts and memories of those currently being helped by the centre.

She said: 'The idea was to pay for the books to be printed and go forward with another book, and we would still like to do that.'

Millie Murrell, who celebrated her 100th birthday yesterdayis one of those people featured in the book and is also having a life story book compiled about her to aid her memory.

Mrs Hawkes said: 'The life story book is a completely different thing for people with the first signs of dementia so we can use as a tool to relate to the past or give it to a home so they know the life and loves of that person - it's as good as medication really.

'They tell us what they want to about their life. They tell us about their life as they see it and what they want to about their life.'

The Essex Rooms, along with the Silver Rooms, which is also run by the county council, was suggested for closure last October.

But in the wake of anger from the pensioners who use the centres and their families, the county council agreed to carry out a consultation. Last week the Evening News reported how the centres could yet be spared from the axe, after councillors agreed there was merit in giving community groups the chance to make a case for them taking them over.

For more information about the book, Memories from the Essex Rooms, call Sheila Hawkes on 01603 610799.

What do you think about plans to close the centres? Write to Evening News Letters, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich, NR1 1RE or email