Once in a lifetime if you are lucky you might come across someone who is both brave and good, someone who is a little bit out of the ordinary; someone who impresses you from the outset. In our case working on the Our Basildon, Our Memories project, 2009 that person was Albert Leaver whom we came across just by chance.
Albert had an amazing recall of early childhood memories, which included a vivid account of him seeing a German Zeppelin falling to the ground during the First World War, and of life growing up in Bow east London. But it was his move to Basildon and his years of working for Carreras Ltd and bringing up a family in the New Town that we found particularly pertinent, and in that regard Albert was our star player.
Like so many other new town pioneers, Albert was brave to uproot and make a new life for himself and his family in Basildon, and the memories that he told of those early years proved fascinating, especially for the young people of De La Salle School. But for Albert it was his faith that always saw him through, a faith that lead him to become a founder of the United Reformed Church, Honeypot Lane and a pillar of the local community. He was always interested in the welfare of young people, which was one of the reasons why he formed the 4th Basildon Boy’s Brigade, an association that lasted 54 years.
Albert proved to be a mainstay of Our Memories, very popular among the other participants and particularly so with the young students who were fascinated to find out more about how the early settlers managed with work, raising a family and how they passed their leisure time. All very different to how they were brought up in Basildon in the 1990s as Albert found out when he visited De La Salle School to see how the students were being taught in the classroom. This proved a revelation for Albert who recalled sitting on hard benches behind a small desk with an inkwell in it, and looking at a blackboard on the wall. There were no computers in his day, he remarked and you had to learn the times tables or you might get six of the best!
Like many other participants, Albert was surprised that the students took an interest in him and wanted to know more about his life in Basildon, to the extent that they became friends. Like Albert, many of those taking part lived alone and were concerned about young people hanging around street corners “up to no good” as they would say, but this project helped to narrow that intergenerational gap, which often leads to misunderstandings, because fear and suspicion often lead them to not talking to one another. However, Albert’s time in the church and working with the Boy’s Brigade meant he knew how to communicate with the younger generation, but even he was surprised when the students and their teachers invited Albert and the others in the group, along to De La Salle for a Christmas Party.
At this formative get-together Albert became eighty years younger, his eyes lit up and he was the life and soul of the party reciting a poem he had learned as a boy, which consisted of many stanzas, delivered word perfect as far we know. Soon after Albert became ill and was admitted to Basildon Hospital, following which he transferred to Brentwood Community Hospital to convalesce, which is where Lisa Hawker and Vin Harrop recorded his thoughts on film about his involvement in the project. Although in obvious discomfort and worried about the future, he gave us a really wonderful and in depth interview that will eventually be archived for future generations to learn from.
Albert was always the enquirer, always the one eager to learn about what other people were doing, but in a non-inquisitive way and he made friends easily. It was those qualities that endeared him to many and made him a very special person to have taken part in our project. We shall miss him greatly.
By Vin Harrop