West Midlands Region Annual Report – 2013

West Midlands

Julia Letts

There seem to be lots of oral history projects going on in the West Midlands at the moment, but as a networker, I only seem to find out about a fraction of them. I concentrate on Worcestershire and the Black Country, with Helen Lloyd focussing on Birmingham and other parts of the West Midlands.

I have been directly involved in a variety of projects this year, some of which are listed below:

Black Country Stories – Multistory, West Bromwich
This is a four year project (now in Year 3) to document the working and personal lives of ordinary Black Country people through photographs, films and oral history interviews. The project was created by Multistory based in West Bromwich. This year the focus has been on Dudley. I have been recording oral history interviews with people from various Black Country industries (glass, tiles, leisure) and working with two Year 6 classes at school in Stourbridge to produce interviews with local people. The completed archive will contain at least 75 oral history recordings from the Black Country, 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.

Project Pigeon – Birmingham Pigeon Archive
Project Pigeon has completed an archive of Oral History interviews (audio and video), a book and 3 short plays about pigeon fanciers based on the oral history interviews. Two of the plays were performed in the open air at a pigeon loft in the centre of Birmingham to mark the culmination of the project in April 2013. All the material has now gone to the new Birmingham Library and Archive.

Warley Woods, Smethwick
This HLF project – to collect oral history interviews about Warley Woods in Smethwick – is also reaching its completion. About 30 interviews have been recorded by volunteers. These have been edited and a book and CD are about to be published charting the life of this much loved park in the 20th Century. In addition to this, I was involved in a project with 2 local primary schools to produce a DVD combining video oral histories with local people, photos and other footage of the park. This will be used as a school resource.

Hallow History Group has now published a book and CD on the history of farms and mills around the village of Hallow (just north of Worcester). The CD includes interviews with about 20 people, recorded by volunteers trained by the OHS. The group also worked with Hallow Primary School who created their own CD of interviews with people who had attended the school as children.

Chantry High School – 40th Anniversary.
A group of students recorded interviews with a number of former pupils and teachers who had attended Chantry High School when it first opened in 1973. These interviews were edited and put on display on an audio point during a celebratory weekend to mark the school’s 40th birthday.

‘Our Droitwich’ – Memories of the Expansion of Droitwich Spa
This is a small project in Droitwich Spa, funded by HLF, to create an archive of photos, documents and oral history interviews on the massive expansion of the town between 1950 and 2000. Due to overspill from Birmingham, the population trebled during this period, rising from seven to twenty thousand in about 30 years. We are attempting to document the changes brought about by this rapid expansion, from the point of view of both the incomers and the old Droitwich families. All the information will be stored in Droitwich Library and local schools will be involved in a ‘Super Learning Day’ next summer.

‘We did our bit’ – Video Oral History Project, Worcestershire
I teamed up with an old colleague from Splash TV to work on a video oral history project of WW2 testimonies. The aim of the project, funded by the Worcestershire Partnership, was to create a film, which was played on November 11th just after the 2-min silence. We recorded over 20 hours of material with 13 local veterans, all in their late 80s or early to mid 90s. We also filmed the participants out and about in the community. The resulting film has 2 versions; an 11 minute one for school assemblies and Remembrance gatherings, and a longer 45 minute version which gives far more detail and background on the veterans.

Worcestershire Archive & Archaeology Service and Worcestershire County Libraries – Oral History projects in Stourport on Severn and Bromsgrove
In Stourport, 12 students from Stourport High School recorded interviews with 5 members of the Civic Society about the heritage of the town and 7 students from Bewdley High School recorded the memories of 2 members of the town’s Local History Society. In Bromsgrove, 11 students from Bromsgrove School have interviewed 17 local people about their memories of the town’s High Street. This is part of Bromsgrove District Council’s Heritage Lottery funded Townscape Heritage Initiative and will result in a DVD including oral history interviews and old photos.

African Roots, Freshwinds
This HLF funded project, managed by the African Community Council for the Regions (ACCR), is looking at the evolution of the English language in a number of African countries and the Caribbean. The project team has recruited and trained a number of volunteers aged between 15 – 25 who are gaining work-related skills through the project. The aim is to create a video documentary, an oral history archive, and a website, all charting the changes and uses of English by people before, during and after immigration to this country from Africa and the Caribbean.

Aston Martin, A Century of Craftsmanship
This is an HLF funded project to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the production of Aston Martin cars. The project team is in the process of recruiting volunteers both at Aston Martin HQ in Gaydon and at their factory in Newport Pagnell. The volunteers will be trained in research skills and oral history recording, and they will undertake at least 20 interviews with a variety of past and present workers within the company. A two-year exhibition at the Heritage Motor Centre will combine the contributions of Aston Martin craftsmen and women with never-before-seen archive material.

Heritage Motor Museum, Gaydon
The Heritage Motor Museum is collecting oral history interviews with former workers and managers in the car industry. A team of volunteers has been given oral history training and is now well underway with recording. The collection will be stored in the Museum’s archive and used in current and future audio displays.

Counter Culture, Arena Theatre, Wolverhampton
This project created by The Arena Theatre in Wolverhampton has involved two schools, West Park Primary and Penn Hall Special School in a number of oral history related activities. The aim is to record interviews with local people about how they used to meet and do business across counters… for example shopping, post office, job centre, cafe, food bank, credit union… and how this has changed over the years. The children have been trained in oral history skills, have toured the Wolverhampton Archives and are now recording interviews both in school and out and about in the community. The interviews will be turned into a production which the children will put on at the Arena Theatre early next year.

In Wales, The Llanwyrtd History Resource Group has recorded more than 30 oral history interviews on the history of Llanwyrtd Wells, in both English and Welsh. The Year 6 pupils at the local primary school also recorded interviews with local people and created a book and CD called ‘Memories of childhood’.

Birmingham & area

Helen Lloyd

Last year I reported on a growing interest among minority groups in recording their history, including one group that wanted to record memories in Somali. This year I’ve had enquiries about recording memories in several different languages. In some cases potential interviewees speak little or no English and in some cases project organisers feel that even those who speak good English would relate their experiences more eloquently in their native language. They’ve all aimed to produce English translations but have not usually given much thought to the methods and costs involved. Often the assumption is that bi-lingual members of the community will conduct the interviews and then somehow produce translations – and this chimes with the requirement of the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) to use volunteers as much as possible. However, professional interpreters and translators – often themselves bi-lingual – argue that being bi-lingual is not an adequate qualification for producing accurate translations. Some also think it’s essential to make a transcription before doing a translation, thus doubling the cost of each interview.

The ‘Go-Woman! Alliance’ CIC (http://www.gwacic.com) has chosen to use professional translators for a project funded by the HLF called Home Away From Home. Bi-lingual young women volunteers from the Saltley and Washwood Heath areas of Birmingham have been trained to interview Mirpuri/Kashmiri women who arrived in the UK in the 50s, 60s and 70s. The aim is to put on record the lives of women who have often been ignored, to make known their experiences in adjusting from village life and early teenage marriages in Kashmir to city life in Birmingham and to celebrate their achievements in finding suitable food, health care and employment.

The South Asian arts organisation, Sampad, (http://www.sampad.org.uk) has submitted a second stage application to the HLF for a project called My Route which aims to preserve the history and culture of different groups who’ve settled along the Stratford Road in Birmingham over the past 60 years. Out of 50 interviews they hope to record at least 15 non-English speakers – in Somali, Arabic, Urdu or Punjabi. If their grant application is successful, they’ll recruit and train volunteer interviewers who speak these languages, pay professional transcribers and use a mixture of professional and volunteer translators.

As a self-employed oral history consultant, I work all over the UK, but have also worked on local projects. These have included The Big Story of Pugin project (http://www.pugin.org), which began with the 200th anniversary of the Gothic revival architect, Augustus Pugin (1812-1852). Four primary schools in Oscott, in north-west Birmingham, learnt about his life and his architectural work on the Houses of Parliament and on parts of the Catholic seminary, Oscott College. As part of the project, the children interviewed staff and students from Oscott College and local residents who had memories of the college and the farm attached to it.

The Castle Bromwich Youth and Community Partnership received a grant from the HLF to create a Graveyard Heritage Trail (http://www.thecbcp.co.uk) to explore the stories behind the headstones in the local graveyard. This will include memories of local residents – of the graveyard itself, of those buried there and of the surrounding area.

Volunteers in the Balsall Heath area of Birmingham are trying to restore an old print-works, JH Butcher, which closed in 2009, and make it available for community activities. I recorded the life-stories of ten people who’d worked there, including the grandsons of the man who founded the factory in 1900, to form part of an exhibition, Voices of the Old Printworks, which was held in September.

The new Library of Birmingham opened in September and all the collections in the Archives, Heritage and Photography Department are stored in environmentally-controlled conditions inside the Library’s ‘golden box’. They welcome transcriptions, translations and summaries to accompany oral history recordings.

Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service

Maggie Tohill

The Hive, Worcester
Our involvement in oral history work has continued to be low key, partly because we have not had many approaches from people seeking advice and guidance this year, but also because I have been seconded to a cataloguing project, so have less time to devote to oral history work at the moment. I have given some initial advice to two local groups, Worcestershire Industrial Archaeological and Local History Society and the Friends of Hartlebury Castle, both of whom are hoping to undertake some oral history work and I will hopefully pick things up with them as needed, once they are further forward with their ideas.

We continue to receive deposits of sound recordings and it’s very pleasing that local groups and societies do regard us as a place of deposit for recordings. We have received some additional CDs from the Voices of Croome project to complement what we already have. We have also received some tapes of interviews undertaken to support a dissertation on the gloving industry in Worcester and we have just taken in both video and sound recordings made by a local historian to support her research and publications about the Wolverley and Cookley area.

Oral history volunteer work has been somewhat quiet, partly because we have a number of specific cataloguing and outreach projects underway and many of our volunteers are currently assisting with those. It is hoped to recruit some additional volunteers to pick up the various copying, transcription and summarising work we were undertaking prior to our move to the Hive. I am hoping that the project I am working on to catalogue the archives of the Lytteltons of Hagley Hall might have some oral history work as part of the outreach for the project, but it is likely to depend on attracting some additional external funding.

University of Worcester
We have continued to forge links with our Hive Partner, the University of Worcester. This autumn we are planning to include introductory talks on our oral history collections in the University’s November study skills sessions to raise awareness of their potential for research. We already have a couple of students embarking on World War II Home Front research using our collections. We will also be hosting a student placement and part of their work experience will involve working with oral history collections and we hope to build on this activity in the future.

Engineering the Past
Jestaminute Community Theatre (JCT) have been awarded HLF money for a one year project to investigate the industrial heritage of Redditch 1939-64, a time prior to the development of Redditch as a New Town, when a lot of new factories were being established there and many people were moving into Redditch to work in them. JCT are working in partnership with Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service, Redditch Local History Society, Age UK (Redditch) and local schools to record the reminiscences of residents about their working lives during that period. We are undertaking oral history training and workshops for schools as part of the project.