A DEVOTED fundraiser and Blackbird Leys resident of 50 years was among the first to tell her story on camera for a heritage project.

Irma James, 74, of Field Avenue, arrived on the estate on April 5, 1965,and has been fundraising for the Sailors’ Society, which aims to help the lives of seafarers, for almost three decades.

Her inspirational tale was the first of many this week to be recorded for Time to Talk: Digital Storytelling in the Leys.

The project is a series of short films documenting residents’ memories and reflections that will be exhibited in the Museum of Oxford this autumn.

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Mrs James said: “When I first came here it was magnificent. All of us mothers looked after each other’s children. We came and went to school together.”

Arriving at Blackbird Leys Community Centre in nautical garb and with her fundraising gear, she told an assembled crew about her 27 years’ fundraising for the charity. To date, she has raised about £18,000.

She said: “My husband encouraged me to do it and to me it’s his legacy, the best he could have left me.

“One day I got a phone call from a gentleman about the Sailors’ Society. I asked how he got my number and wasn’t going to help, but my husband Eli said ‘if you can do it, do it’.

“So against my better judgment, and with the encouragement of my husband, I gave it a go.”

Recorded over about 45 minutes, Mrs James’s story will be reduced to a polished three minutes and laid over images of the Leys and objects special to her.

The six interviews recorded on Wednesday will be joined by the testimonies of residents including members of the Friendleys social group for elderly people. Time to Talk was the idea of Jeni Burnell, a researcher at Oxford Brookes University’s Centre for Development and Emergency Practice.

She said: “I spoke to some men from the Friendleys group and it was really interesting to hear how they worked at the old Morris plant and moved to the Leys because of work at the factory.”

After post-production, the films will be shown at the Museum of Oxford as part of its 40 Years, 40 Objects exhibition from September 28.

They are being delivered with help from Storyworks UK, a Walesbased company working with personal storytelling for charities, health projects, heritage projects and more.

Director Lisa Heledd Jones said: “I had heard of the Leys before but I really believe that until you speak to the people in the area you just don’t know it. At the launch last week they had a spontaneous sing-song. They all knew each other and sang You’ll Never Walk Alone. I had tears in my eyes.”

Children from the Leys Community Development Initiative were also involved, learning to use cameras and audio equipment to record Friendleys members’ stories.

Ten-year-old Erin Qualter, who lives in Windrush Tower, said: “It has been really fun. All the Friendleys were really interesting.”

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