Oral histories project preserves precious memories of older Steel City generation

84 year-old Ian Betts (right) takes part in the St Luke's Oral Histories project with St Luke's Hospice volunteer, John O'Shea
84 year-old Ian Betts (right) takes part in the St Luke's Oral Histories project with St Luke's Hospice volunteer, John O'Shea

A project to preserve the oral histories of the district’s older generation is being run by St Luke’s Hospice in Sheffield.

One of those histories is that of Ian Betts. Son of a blacksmith, scholarship boy, trained accountant, IT expert, businessman, rugby player, father, grandfather and international traveller...at 84 years-old Ian realised he had a story that he needed to tell.

Patients at Sheffield’s only hospice have the opportunity to record their stories for posterity or to share with family and loved ones, supported by specially trained volunteers who provide help as people re-live important memories of their lives.

Father of six and gradfather of six, Ian said: “There were a lot of things I wished I’d asked my parents but you always think about it when it’s too late so I’d always had it in my mind that one day I should write a book but I never got round to it.”

Instead, he started talking, telling a story that goes right back to the 1930s when he was growing up the son of a Sheffield blacksmith who worked on the city’s tram network, his educational opportunities thanks to a scholarship and then a career that saw him live and work in Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, Yemen, Somalia, the Bahamas and even – rather closer to home – Guernsey, before he came back to his native city.

“It’s been quite a big job and I must have done about 12 hours of talking and I’ve still only reached the 1980s,” he laughed.

Ian, who lives in Ecclesall with wife Dorothy, came to the project as a patient at the St Luke’s Active Intervention Centre, where he receives support for his myelofibrosis. Together with volunteer John O’Shea, Ian completed the 500th interview in the  autobiographical project, recording more than a dozen hour-long sessions.