East of England 2016


Essex (Martin Astell)

The Essex Record Office Sound and Video Archive project, You Are Hear: sound and a sense of place is now in its second year.  A large number of archived oral history recordings have been digitised and made available through the Essex Archives Online catalogue. Listening benches have been installed in Colchester, Saffron Walden, Great Dunmow, Great Waltham, Kelvedon, Castle Hedingham, and Harwich. More listening benches and audio-visual kiosks have been touring the county, visiting places intended to reach people who would not necessarily think of visiting an archive. So far they have spent time at Stansted Airport, Hatfield Forest and a number of country parks. A further 11 listening benches will be installed in towns and villages across Essex in the next year.  As part of the You Are Hear project, the Essex Record Office has also launched a new website – www.essexsounds.org.uk – which allows users to hear recordings linked to specific locations in Essex and also to compare historic and newly-created recordings from the same places.

The above project is primarily funded by a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. There are a number of other oral history projects being carried out in Essex with funding from the HLF. Colchester and Tendring Women’s Refuge have begun a project exploring the turbulent early days of the women’s refuge movement. This project – called You Can’t Beat a Woman – should help to bring to light a valuable ‘untold story’ of the practical, political and personal difficulties involved in building from scratch a movement and institutions which we now take for granted.

The Essex Cultural Diversity Project are collecting stories from members of a range of minority ethnic communities who have used Thurrock as the starting point for their experiences in this country. Their project is called By Thames to all Peoples of the World: Thurrock Routes 1930-2004.

The Southend Association of Voluntary Services, in their project called Volunteering-on-Sea, are using an HLF Young Roots grant to help a group of young people to learn about the work of a number of charities based along the Southend seafront by interviewing volunteers who work for them. And the Mercury Theatre in Colchester has recently been awarded a grant for a two-year archive project which includes an oral history element. They will be working with the Colchester Recalled Oral History Group to gather interviews with people who have played a significant role (but not necessarily on stage) in the history of the theatre, but also people for whom the theatre has played a significant role in their lives.

The Maldon Society has received a grant from the Essex Heritage Trust to carry out interviews relating to the history of Maldon.

Video interviews with members of the Nepali community recorded as part of the Beyond the Gurkhas project organised by the Foundation for Indian Performing Arts (FIPA) have been deposited at the Essex Record Office. Other collections we have received over the last few months include interviews made by the Harwich Society; interviews with residents of the village of Clavering; over 60 interviews recorded as research for a Ph.D. into the effects of evacuation in the Second World War; and interviews with folk musicians and others about their experiences of the ‘folk movement’ in the 1960s.

Suffolk (Juliana Vandegrift)

This year sees the culmination of the three year HLF project ‘Eighth in the East’, a heritage project recording the story of the 8th United States Army Air Force in the East of England. Archive material was gathered and oral history recordings were made by volunteers. Further information can be found at http://www.8theast.org/oral-history/

In terms of enquiries received from members of the public, I’ve had less than half a dozen.  Most of these were seeking advice for oral history projects outside of Suffolk.  The lack of enquiries from people in Suffolk embarking on oral history projects prompted me to do a little investigative work on the Heritage Lottery Fund website.  I discovered that since November 2015 the Heritage Lottery Fund has awarded grants in the East of England involving oral history recording to at least half a dozen groups ranging from Suffolk Wildlife Trust to the Bottolph Green Living History and Listening Project.  However none of the groups has contacted me personally for advice so it’s hard to know where they got their advice from to write their bids. I noticed on the published minutes of grants awarded that several oral history bids for funding were rejected by the HLF East of England committee and I’m not in a position to comment on the standard of the applications as I was not asked for input or aware of their submission until the ‘rejected’ notice appeared.  Having reflected about this, I think I need to request a meeting with the HLF East of England team to find out why the applications failed to get grants and how we can better publicise the Oral History Society’s advice and regional network which is available to assist groups and organisations submitting their bids.  

Suffolk has less than a dozen paid up members in the Oral History Society, including institutions and I’d like to hold a one day event to promote oral history and our services to wider groups and also invite members.  This is on my ‘to do’ list for 2017.