Tom Mallender uses poetry to help people share their tales of working life. He’s currently searching for people who used to work in Islington professions that might be considered unusual today.

Tom Mallender, 35, comes across as an old soul despite his trendy Goth clothing. He did a Creative Writing degree at Roehampton University, but he’s also an historian with a passion for creating poetry inspired by people’s lives. For the past four years he’s been running Write London helping marginalised people tell their own stories across Islington, Camden, Hammersmith and Fulham, where he lives.

But Tom, who has run 30 or more sessions at Drovers over the past two years, reckons that across London it’s Islington people who have been most fired up by the opportunity of sharing their stories, and then seeing him turn them into short poems, full of facts and figures, like the one inspired by a Regent’s Park Keeper.

“I specifically ask people what they think and feel about things. I’m often told that’s unusual,” says Tom who specialises in demystifying poetry during his writing workshops. “Poetry works regardless of English language skills, or if you don’t have brilliant vocab. For people with dementia you can pull out clear memories. And you don’t have to worry about spelling or grammar – you can put everything you want in 500 words,” he says in his quiet, friendly manner.

Tom will be working with Age UK Islington on their Heritage Lottery funded project ‘Lost Trades’, which partners with London Metropolitan University and Islington Local History Centre. The project is seeking people who used to work in a profession or work place in Islington that might not exist anymore, or be considered unusual nowadays, to share their stories about working life.

The plan is to train older volunteers in interview and recording techniques in autumn 2017 and then interview 10 people at Drovers. Podcasts and a publication (both an ebook and a printed book) will be ready by September 2018. The transcripts will also be lodged with Islington Local History Centre for posterity.

Tom will be using the oral history collected to inspire poetry in a new class set up for this purpose. This project will build on Tom’s work creating Poems by Post with the Royal Star & Garter written with nine people living in a home for decorated ex-servicemen in Surbiton.

For the Record

“I want to put on historical record information, before it slips out of historical memory, about bell founders, barometer and piano makers, and people working in livestock and the food trade at Caledonian Park. I also want to know how the area has changed so much, so that now King’s Cross is the most vogue place in town,” says Tom.

Tom reckons his curiosity about people’s history stems from his childhood. “I grew up in a really peculiar environment in rural Derbyshire. My dad was a blacksmith who did a bit of farming and everything was horse powered,” says Tom who has a photo of himself, when he was just three years old, shoeing a horse. “I read lots of Edwardian books and I can relate. When I was 15 the farm got its first tractor, made in 1947. It was the dawning of a new age. Jobs that took all winter now took a weekend. I see TV history re-enactments and they have pieces of technology that I used in our day-today life.”

Such is the pull of Derbyshire that even though Tom is not a big fan of horses, and his sister now runs a horse yard at the old family farm, he visits every six weeks. But the pull of the old stuff for Tom is so strong that soon the Get Together team are out in Caledonian Park photographing Tom with the clock tower in the background. That clock may no longer chime, but at least it’s there reminding people of Islington’s market days. Perhaps it’s coincidence, but maybe it’s something about Tom’s ability to make history come alive, but the very next day there‘s a chance to take a tour to the very top of the tower in Cally Park. In the same way the lost trades Tom wants to capture as poems could just as accurately be described as living history. Do join him if you can.


The Keeping of Regent’s Park 

by Tom Mallender

Straight out of school,
and lucky.

Was given
an hour

were given

The training?
See that hole in the fence?

It’s left for
any kids locked in.

Then handed a set of keys,
training complete.

Now you’re a park keeper.


Join Tom Mallender and Write London www.write-london.com at Drovers from October for a new course Short stories and Life-writing.

Lost Trades: If you want to share your stories of work in unusual trades or volunteer on the project talk to Andrea at Drovers Centre on 020 7607 7701.

Article writer: Nicola Baird

This is an edited version of a longer interview by Nicola Baird published on Islington faces http://islingtonfacesblog.com

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