Sharing stories at the Museum of St Albans

MANY people could not imagine what it’s like to be affected by war or domestic turmoil but a new free exhibition at St Albans museum is offering visitors an insight into such troublesome times.

The Shelter in the Storm exhibition combines memories and thoughts from members of St Luke’s Sharing Stories group and the St Albans Women’s Refuge to celebrate strong women coping in tough situations.

Chris Blanch, arts development officer for Leisure Connection, worked with local artist Flea Cooke to develop the exhibition which is showing at the Hatfield Road museum.

She said: “The aim was to bring out some of the stories of ordinary women coping in extraordinary circumstances and raise the profile of the women’s refuge and the elderly in the district.

“We wanted to highlight the similarities between each group such as coping with adversity fear and homelessness.

St Luke’s Sharing Stories group gives elderly people a chance to meet up and share their experiences of growing up and the war at St Luke’s Church on Cell Barnes Lane.

The group meets once a month on a Wednesday afternoon and often works with schools telling them what life used to be like.

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Jeff and Mabel Welch, of St Albans, both attend St Luke’s Sharing Stories group and featured in the exhibition.

Mabel said: “Basically we just talk and tell stories about during the war. Everybody’s got lots of stories to tell.”

Organiser of the group, Claire Harvey, said she was amazed at how much women seemed to make do and mend during the war.

She added: “Chris Blanch really wanted to do an exhibition which captured the stories of the women who were being brave on the home front – really brave and really resourceful. They couldn’t have fought the war without women like that back at home.”

Flea presented St Luke’s Sharing Stories group wartime memories in translucent pockets made of organdie with images printed on.

The pockets have memorable items inside them, with one featuring a ring pull off a hand grenade. She said: “I liked the idea of pockets because they’re places you can tuck stuff away.”

However rather than go with pockets for the women’s refuge, Flea decided to make good luck charms and amulets as many women did not want to be identified.

St Albans Women’s Refuge offers a safe and comfortable environment for women who have experienced domestic abuse and Flea admitted that the experience of working with the women’s refuge was very different to the St Luke’s group.

She said: “I was anxious because I knew the past is safely distant with St Luke’s. With the women’s refuge it’s raw and the people that we saw were in a very dire situation.

“They’d made the first step out of their troubles but they were still very lost and also very transient so you didn’t get a group that you could sit and work with consistently.”

Flea worked closely with each person involved in the project so that each of the works would reflect the makers’ personalities.

She said: “For me it’s been a real learning curve and it’s been something I’ve really loved being involved in.”

The exhibition is open now until September 30 and a Make Do and Mend creative workshop is being held at the museum this Saturday (September 15) from 12noon until 4pm.

Tickets cost �12 and attendees can convert a man’s shirt into a cushion and fashion accessory.

For more information visit, or call the Museum of St Albans on 01727 819340.