My new career – West London Walks

It was my local council who, as I entered the second half of my sixth decade, unknowingly launched me into a new career when they invited local people to get more involved in some of their services by volunteering their time.

Wild About Hammersmith & Brook Green, by Caroline Macmillan and Andrew WilsonOne of these services was the borough Archives service, and as I had been thinking about doing some voluntary work I decided I could give half a day a month.

At quiet moments between directing researchers to relevant files, books and micro-fiche machines, I delved into the archives myself. I was fascinated to learn how the local area of Hammersmith had developed from a 17th century rural community to the bustling city metropolis of today, and who had lived in our house a hundred years ago.

An idea was forming
Recounting to some neighbours one day what an interesting area we live in, they asked me to show them where the old laundries had operated and the school built by architect Erno Goldfinger (who upset his neighbour Ian Fleming, thus giving James Bond’s baddie his name), so I devised a walk for  them.

This idea expanded into local talks
One of them belonged to a local business group and subsequently asked if I would give a talk to their members. No problem, I thought, as there were usually a couple of dozen at their meetings – on the night of my talk over a hundred turned up!

So many people wanted to find out about their local area.
I now have a repertoire of a dozen walks, most of them in Hammersmith and Chiswick but I also venture into central London with tours based round the many palaces we have (or had) in the city. As well as keeping me fit both mentally and physically, what I particularly enjoy is meeting new people and opening their eyes to where they live.

A local resident said the other week, “but there is no history in my street,” so I invited her to come on my next walk. Two hours later she realised how wrong she was – every street has a tale to tell.

My volunteering gave me access to the archives.
My volunteer work at the archives continues which gives me more research opportunities and material for new walks, I have given several talks to local groups and also written the history of the area for a book (Wild About Hammersmith & Brook Green, pictured above). I certainly never envisaged when I decided to help at the archives that my life would change direction and I would embark on a completely new career!

Caroline (centre) and friends in Trafalgar Square for a 'Palaces' walk.

For more information or to join a walk: www.westlondonwalks.co.uk

[Caroline MacMillan]

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