Oral history in the East Midlands in 2020

Leicestershire & Rutland (by Cynthia Brown & Colin Hyde, Helen Foster) 

New oral history work in Leicestershire and Rutland has been curtailed due to the pandemic, but oral history was a key element of ‘Poshak Puralekh’, a project run by the Centre for Indian Classical Dance in Leicester to celebrate the rich history of Indian dance and costume. The Centre was established in Leicester in 1981 with a view to promoting knowledge, understanding and appreciation of Indian dance and culture, and has trained hundreds of students in dance over the years. The Centre holds an archive of about 300 costumes, most of them handmade from intricate Indian silk. The ‘Poskak Puralekh’ collection has now been deposited in the East Midlands Oral History Archive (EMOHA). 

Leicester’s De Montfort Hall has been calling for written and spoken memories of the city’s foremost concert venue during the corona virus lockdown: ‘Our doors may be closed and the stage lights dark but we are shining a light on the past with memories of happier times. Now is the time to celebrate our history and take a look back at your best-ever events, concerts and artists. What are your favourite memories? Hanging around the stage door waiting to see your teen crush? Seeing David Bowie in the seventies? Kasabian when they were just starting out? Your first panto? Or chilling in our gardens at Summer Sundae watching Amy Winehouse?’ Some of the stories and highlights of the Hall’s archives have been shared on its Twitter, Instagram and Facebook pages.  

The Midlands Hub at the University of Leicester continues to preserve a wide range of oral history collections from across the Midlands. Collections currently being worked on include: from Birmingham Library, Carl Chinn’s oral history collection; a mix of sound and interviews from Banner Theatre; soundtracks from Phillip Donnellan’s ‘Six Men’ film series; from Coventry Archives, a collection of car workers’ memories and a collection called ‘Attitudes to Authority’; Derbyshire Museum Service Oral History Archive; oral histories of Redditch from Forge Needle Museum; Nottingham County Council Oral History 

Project; oral histories of Shropshire generally and Telford in particular from Shropshire Archives; memories of World War II from Worcestershire Archives. As well as these, we have recently taken in collections from Derby Local Studies and Family History Library, Staffordshire Archives, and Walsall Leather Museum. 

A wealth of material has come into the archive from the Textile Tales project, led by Nottingham Trent University in partnership with a number of regional museums. This project has created over fifty interviews with people involved in the East Midlands textiles industry during its period of decline from 1980 to 2005.   

EMOHA’s Silent Archive project, funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, continues to find Covid-compliant ways of collecting oral testimonies about menopause from women across the region. Material is coming to us in a range of recorded spoken forms; interviews, facilitated conversations and personal diaries. Creative writing workshops, inspired by oral histories, are running in parallel with the project, delivered in partnership with Writing East Midlands.  

EMOHA continues to support oral history work across the East Midlands. In Lincolnshire, South Holland Heritage are looking to develop work around the Spalding Flower Parade. Leicestershire Heritage and Libraries Participation Team are planning to record people’s stories of Loughborough Market and Fair to mark 800 years since it was granted a charter by Henry III.  

The Friends of Bennerley Viaduct are also planning some oral history work to support a wider project set up to celebrate this Grade 2* listed viaduct, the longest wrought iron viaduct in the country, spanning the River Erewash between Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire.  In Nottinghamshire, Mansfield Townscape Heritage are running a community participation programme to gather oral histories as part of a five-year project to refurbish historic properties in the town.   

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