Oral history is the recording of unique life experience; it captures and preserves voices and participants are involved in the process of producing their own life histories. An oral history service for patients has run successfully in the Sheffield Macmillan Unit for Palliative Care since 2007. In 2012, with Macmillan Cancer Support we embarked on a project to develop oral history in pilot sites in the north of England and Northern Ireland. Evaluation of these services will determine whether oral history as a service will be rolled out nationally.
Oral history complements palliative care services, it offers time to reflect, record identity and make a family record in the teller’s voice. A motivation for recording life stories can be the opportunity to create a family record. Oral history interviews are carried out by trained volunteers. Participants receive an audio CD soon after their interview and recordings are securely archived. With consent, interviews are available for research.
To understand the role of oral history in palliative care and bereavement, a further 12 month project is assessing the impact of creating an oral history. We have analysed an existing archive of 200 oral histories and sought views from participants, family and friends via semi structured interviews and a questionnaire. Results are contributing important insights into the meaning of oral history for people who make recordings, and for those who receive them.
Findings from both projects offer vital academic information to support the future shape and direction of Macmillan oral history services. We are establishing that oral history enhances patient experience of palliative care by providing opportunities to reflect and express identity in a non-medical context. Especially valuable is the existence of a voice recording for family and friends in bereavement.
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