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Assisting Elly #Sticky Memories by Kaajel Patel

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Elly and Jim MacSweeney at Gay Is The Word Bookshop July 2015 Kaajel Patel

I was put in contact with Elly after hearing that she needed an assistant for a brilliant project she was doing in celebration of 50 years of Camden borough. Elly was keen to get me on board to assist which I was thrilled about, as her project sounded marvellous; she was lovely and I was fascinated by her work. After hearing about the plans for Camden Encounters I was extremely thrilled to be part of such a significant project. I was looking forward to speaking to a plethora of people I'd never met before, gathering memories, anecdotes and connections through Camden.

As well as getting to grips with this project Elly and I were also just getting to know one another so we spoke regularly. She had recently relocated to Berlin, so it was important to have weekly catch up sessions so we wouldn't lose track. In our first meeting I’d realised the microphone was broken on my laptop, this meant we had to Skype as well as phone so we could see and hear one another – We kept this odd format up for the 9 month period and it never lost it’s funny awkwardness.

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Screen Shot - My microphone had broken which meant we had to Skype and call in order to see and hear one another?! March 2015 Kaajel Patel

In the early stages, we started by researching the history of Camden; hunting for all sorts of stories or interesting events that happened to be situated within the borough. Reading through old newspapers, speaking to people, different organisations and spreading the word about Camden Encounters.

I spent some time over the summer strolling the streets of Camden speaking to small businesses, coffee shops, Chinese remedy shops, hairdressers, laundrettes and more, gathering tiny #StickyMemories. Since the project was about people, personal association and community, it felt appropriate to walk the streets and try to naturally fall into conversation with people about their day to day lives in the borough. This was always going to be an interesting task dependent on peoples reaction but on a whole it was great learning more colloquial snippets of the past through actually speaking to people.

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Photograph taken on our encounter with Garo and Mark Keshishian, collection of photos they have of shop fronts in Camden changing over the years July 2015 Kaajel Patel

Camden consists of a huge array of people from all walks of life. We spent a lot of time contacting specified community groups, as Elly was keen to paint the truest depiction of Camden as possible. We contacted organisations such as The Bengali Workers Association, Age UK Camden, Camden Chinese Community Centre, Camden Somali Cultural Centre, The Board of Deputies of British Jews, New Horizon Youth Centre and many many more.

Due to the large variety of people we were communicating with it meant that every person had their own preferred medium of communication. We had some people who preferred a phone call, others a Facebook message, an email, a text, a letter or a simple visit. This was challenging to keep in mind as with the large numbers I needed to make sure I hadn’t forgotten or left anyone out.

As Elly began on her Camden Encounters voyage discovering stories and #StickyMemories from the large list of people we’d arranged to meet with - she began sending me over sound files of the interviews. It was my job to transcribe and detail times on them to make them easier for her to edit, especially the very long and complicated ones. It was an interesting experience listening to an interview this way as if I were in the room but not, clinging onto the words each person said so not to lose any content. They were all captivating scripts with great detail.

As Elly's focal material for this project was the stories people were sharing with her; the people were integral to the fruition of the work. Each person's encounter included an interview, photographs of themselves and with Elly as well as video guided by them. Each encounter could be considered as an entirely separate piece of work or exploration usually resulting in an hour often more of sound recording, numerous photographs and videos. The sound was then taken to with a fine comb and only tiny sections picked out and used for the website to keep things easy digestible.

Elly totally immersed herself into each Camden Encounter and literally situated herself into that person's life as well as documented it which was a very complex task and totally fascinating to see and be a part of.

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Elly and Jenny chatting after the interview in Jenny’s beautiful back garden July 2015 Kaajel Patel

What Elly’s brilliant work has culminated in is this gathering of very personal stories and memories of lives within Camden, documented in a style so suited to this specific generation. Her sensitive fine-tuning of salient moments in the conversations she had with these people has made for perfect sharp sentimental titbits tapping into the different lives people have in Camden today. In years to come I imagine this project being used to look back proudly at the community in Camden 2015.

Unearthing all of the history and #Sticky Memories as Elly's assistant and contemplating the many more out there makes me walk through Camden with a fresh perspective. Now when I walk past what used to be Blustons or The Roundhouse Theatre I look at them in a totally different light as if they were banks of history, life and community. I imagine anyone who listens and looks through Elly’s Camden Encounter page on the Camden 50 website will feel the same.

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Elly Clarke and Willie Walters at her home after the interview July 2015 Kaajel Patel