Library Of Things volunteer Maria Passingham has dedicated much of her spare time during the last nine months to recording and editing interviews with borrowers and the LoT team. Fitting this around her day job at Audio Network (a production music company) has been challenging, but Maria’s finally emerged from self-imposed isolation with four beautifully presented, often touching podcasts that encapsulate the spirit of this social venture.
With a background in radio production (including a stint on BBC 6 Music) and music promotion, Maria instinctively knew how to tease the best stories from her interviewees. Fellow volunteer Chris Twomey, also with background in radio and music journalism, quizzed her about the whole experience…
How did you first get involved with LoT? From memory you live in north London so what inspired you to get in touch with Emma, Sophia and Bex and offer your services as a volunteer?
I was fascinated by what Emma and Bex told me about the project. Like so many people my first thought was, “that’s such a great idea, why aren’t these things everywhere?!”
I’d been thinking about making a podcast for a while, but didn’t have a solid idea for the subject, and when I learned about LoT it seemed so obvious, there were so many stories to tell, and I wanted to help build its exposure, while also developing my own production skills. Kind of a win-win for all!
How many people did you interview for the LoT podcasts and when did you start?
I interviewed ten people, plus some children that popped along with their parents. To be honest they gave some of the most honest and ‘human’ material so I’m glad they were there! Most were members, though I also spent some time with volunteers and co-founder Emma to give both perspectives. My first interview was in November 2016 and my last in April ’17, so it did take a while!
Did you have a specific format or agenda you wanted to follow, or did you just conduct each interview by ear?
Well the idea changed since the start of production. Initially I interviewed everyone hoping to edit myself out of the recording and have stand-alone stories. But humans don’t speak in perfectly formed sentences in chronological order without any tangents, so I ended up weaving clips from multiple interviews together with a narrative that I voice. It definitely took some work getting there!
Obviously, Library of Things was central to your discussions, but did your interviewees express common themes and sentiments about LoT as a project?
Definitely. Some really interesting ideas and themes came out of our chats. Things like self-confidence and growth, green and renewable living, community values…
Speaking from experience, people can say the most unexpected, funny, surprising, shocking things completely out the blue. Did that happen to you? And, following on from that, do any particular encounters or stories stand out?
Yes, lots. My favourite moments were when someone really opened up and instead of reporting what happened, revealed something hilarious or surprising. Mirela’s story about upcycling a bar stool, Jacqui revealing that she used to be a carpenter, Frank’s funny words about a woman who needed her garden doing…there are some lovely moments.
Mostly it just amazed me how generous and trusting the community is – something that I think is either rare in contemporary culture, or overshadowed by the negative stories of crime and exploitation.
Putting the podcasts together must have been very time consuming. How did you find the experience overall?
It was a rollercoaster. I did find it overwhelming at times, and once I had all the recordings, sitting down to formulate a structure and narrative was the really challenging part. But there were some moments when, like a songwriter or a poet, it just seemed to flow out of me and come together a lot easier, and I loved that. I would sit in my makeshift studio and my tea would go cold, it would get dark around me, and I’d realise that hours had flown by.
I’m sure you’re proud of the final results, but will you be doing more podcasts for Library of Things? If so, what are they likely to be about?
I would definitely like to, but I need a bit of a break first! I also have so many ideas for other podcasts and projects….without revealing too much, something romantic, something musical, something about social history. I’m really looking forward to the podcasts being out there and hearing the feedback. The pay-off for this kind of work is always in the reception.