West Midlands Region Annual Report – 2012
Birmingham & area
In November 2011, the Heritage Lottery Fund in Birmingham invited me to play audio extracts from my ethnic minority interviews to around twenty participants at a Diverse Heritage Workshop. In March 2012, I addressed another conference organised by the HLF, to celebrate ten years of their Young Roots programme, and it turned out that most of the sixty representatives of Birmingham youth organisations in the audience were also from ethnic minorities. It’s clear that there’s a growing interest among minority groups in recording their history, to make younger generations aware of their heritage and to celebrate the contribution they’ve made to British society.
During the past year I’ve been involved in four projects that aim to record and celebrate minority histories. The most complex was called Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, a project run by the Common Ground Foundation at Aldridge School in Walsall. Pupils aged 11 to 13, who described themselves variously as mixed race, dual heritage or multiple heritage were given time off from their usual classes to record the memories of their relatives and others in the community who had experiences of mixed heritage. During their training, they took it in turns to interview a white teacher who recalled the prejudice she’d encountered when she first went out with her black husband and they listened to the project organiser describe his childhood memories of having a Muslim father from Pakistan and two white uncles who were members of the National Front. Only a few of the young interviewers said they’d experienced much prejudice themselves, so they were interested to hear about prejudices in the past and to learn that their interviewees felt their struggles were outweighed by the benefits of understanding different cultures and being able to choose the aspects of each culture that they liked best.
The second project is called Out of Africa and involves teenagers from Sandwell and Birmingham in recording the memories of African footballers, to celebrate their contribution to professional football in England through a DVD, an exhibition, an educational school pack and an archive for the Professional Footballers’ Association. Some of the teenage interviewers are from deprived backgrounds, but all are talented footballers themselves, so they are highly motivated to discover more details about the daily lives of professional footballers than can be learnt from media interviews.
Media interviews rarely report on any aspect of Somalian culture, so some of the Somali volunteers, aged 18 to 25, who are taking part in the Discover Your Roots project know little about their own heritage and are not completely fluent in the language. However, they are attempting to do some interviews in Somali (for later translation) as well as some in English, with older members of their community in the Small Heath area of Birmingham, with the aim of discovering more about their culture and rural traditions. During training (interrupted by breaks for prayer), they took it in turns to interview a 60-year-old man in Somali and, though I don’t know the language, it was possible to tell which interviewers were doing well i.e those who appeared to concentrate most on what was being said and those who allowed the interviewee to pause without jumping in with a question.
If there’s time at the end of the project, I hope the interviewers will record each other, as their own stories deserve to be archived. In brief practice interviews, one recalled how his uncle guarded his tent against hyenas – a far cry from inner-city Birmingham – and another recalled her puzzlement when she arrived at Heathrow on 11th September 2001, to find police everywhere and people staring at her hijab with undisguised hostility.
After the riots of summer 2011, members of a largely Nigerian church in Perry Barr reflected that their young people lacked roots, in that they knew little about Nigeria and even less about the history of the people who lived around them. So they’ve begun an oral history project called Reach Out in which both adult and young volunteers will record the memories of older church members and also the memories of their neighbours – for example the Muslim man from Pakistan from whom they rent their hall. If this works well, it could become a model for future projects, to encourage people from different cultures to understand each other better through recording each other’s memories.
As a Networker, I have found that things have got quieter as the year has progressed, with fewer emails and calls from people seeking advice or starting projects. However, I have delivered a number of training courses this year to various groups including primary schools, community groups, university students and people working in dementia care.
I have been directly involved in a few projects in Worcestershire and the West Midlands and have also contacted a few other organisations who are currently running projects in this area. Some of these are listed below:
Black Country Stories – Multistory, West Bromwich
‘Black Country Stories’ is a unique four-year project to document the working and personal lives of ordinary Black Country people through photographs, films and oral history interviews. The project, created and produced by Multistory based in West Bromwich, began in Sandwell in 2010. Last year the focus moved to Walsall, and this year Wolverhampton, before finishing in Dudley in 2013. The completed archive will contain at least 75 oral history recordings, available to the general public in each of the four Black Country boroughs. Extracts from the interviews can also be found, along with a vast selection of photographs, on Multistory’s website www.multistory.org.uk
Shelton Heritage Project
This oral history project is collecting interviews and memorabilia from people connected to Shelton Hospital, Bicton Heath, Shrewsbury. The hospital, built as a lunatic asylum in the 1840s, is closing this year. A team of volunteers (who have had Oral History Society training) are now enthusiastically gathering material which will eventually be displayed in the new hospital and shared with the Shropshire Archives.
Project Pigeon – Birmingham Pigeon Archive
Project Pigeon is working on the Birmingham Pigeon Archive, an archive which charts the fascinating history and culture of pigeon fancying in Birmingham. So far the team has collected more than 30 oral history interviews with Birmingham based pigeon fanciers and has produced several short films. A writer is also creating radio plays with the material. The archive will be housed in Birmingham Library and some material will go to Bletchley Park.
Warley Woods, Smethwick
This is an HLF project to collect oral history interviews about Warley Woods in Smethwick, a well loved public park for over 100 years. For many years people have been popping into the Community Trust’s office wanting to share a story about their experiences at Warley, bringing photographs and half stories about things that modern visitors have never seen or known about and other than just listening for a little while, we could do nothing with these recollections. Now twelve volunteers at Warley Woods have had OHS training as interviewers and are planning to record over 30 stories and to create a book, CD and schools resource pack.
Oral history at The Hive, Worcester
Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service has recently completed a number of interviews with people local to Worcester who have lived or worked, from the 1930s onwards, in the area of The Butts in which the new joint County and University Library and History Centre (The Hive) will open in July 2012. The generated oral history archive will be available in audio form at the new Centre and edited clips and slideshows will be on display in exhibition spaces, in sound domes, on easy to use touch screens and on public computers.
Regal Cinema – Online Oral History Project, Tenbury Wells
Interviews from 20 people (locals and visitors) talking about their memories and experiences at the Regal Cinema in Tenbury Wells have been recorded for a new website. This 1937 art deco cinema, owned by Tenbury Town Council is currently undergoing restoration funded by the HLF.
Voices through Corridors: This is an HLF funded project by Walsall Healthcare NHS Trust, following major redevelopment of the Walsall Manor Hospital site. A group of volunteers were OHS trained and have been interviewing people with memories of the hospital, which was a central part of this community for many decades. Some of the recordings are already on the Trust’s website.
Hallow History Group is recording oral history interviews with local people who’ve lived and worked on farms and mills in and around the village of Hallow (just north of Worcester). The group has also worked with Hallow Primary School who created a CD of interviews with 4 people who were at school in the village several decades ago.
Bedworth Primary School got HLF funding for the pupils to record oral history interviews with local people talking about their working lives in the town. Bedworth was once famous for ribbon-weaving and hat-making, as well as mining and later making cars and car parts. The year 5 students had 2 mornings of oral history training before undertaking audio and video interviews and creating a DVD and CD Rom.
Volunteers and project staff received OHS training to record oral history interviews with more than 20 people connected to the Cotswold Canals. The interviews were then used to create about 20 podcasts which can be downloaded at various points along the canal towpath. They are also accessible from a website and the original interviews will be stored with Gloucestershire Archives.
I am currently working with a few groups outside the West Midlands who have just received funding and are at the outset of oral history projects. These include: Outstories Bristol, who are collecting interviews with gay lesbian bisexual and transsexual people in the Bristol and Bath area, Food Stories Llandrindod Wells, who are collecting memories and experiences of growing, preserving, cooking and creating food in their local area, the Centre for Alternative Technology in Machynlleth, who are celebrating their 40th anniversary with a series of interviews with people who’ve been involved in the centre since the 1970s.
Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service
In January of this year Worcestershire Record Office merged with the Worcestershire Historic Environmental and Archaeology Service to form the Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service ahead of their relocation to the new Worcestershire Library and History Centre, now renamed the Hive. A complete restructuring of the service and the physical move of the staff and holdings from their various locations to the new building gave no time for any oral history work be undertaken or for any direct involvement in any projects. The volunteer work on transcribing and summarising recordings was also suspended. Now that the move is complete and new systems and procedures are bedding in, staff from the collections team are about to undertake a review of oral history work to look at how it will fit into the aims and objectives of the new service and what shape future oral history work will take.
The Hive: The new Library and History Centre in Worcester City centre was opened officially in July 2012 by Her Majesty the Queen. The first major exhibition at the Hive is entitled ‘Beyond the City Wall’ and includes audio visual material from and about people who used to live in the area where the Hive is situated, collected as part of a HLF funded project relating to the City, its archives and people. It is planned to use audio visual material in future exhibitions based around particular themes. The current six month theme is ‘Memory’ and the next theme is likely to be ‘the River Severn’.
On the History Floor there are three sounds pods where visitors can dip into selections from our audio collections as part of their general visit to the building. These will be refreshed at intervals. The old Record Office CD jukebox containing selections of World War II reminiscences has also been moved to this floor to give it a more prominent place. It is hoped to broaden the selection of material available in the jukebox to cover other collections now held by us.
Kays project: The University of Worcester have now deposited the interviews they had undertaken as part of their six month project to create a web archive of fashion images from the Kays of Worcester catalogues held by them. As well as interviews with former workers the deposit includes themed CDs on topics such as fashion, the Kays brand, advertising and photography. Linked to the project a fashion show and arts events will be held at the Hive at the end of the year.