Oral history in the West Midlands in 2020

West Midlands area (Julia Letts) 

Listed below are some of the projects I’ve been involved in during the past 12 months. 

The Art of Isolation – Worcester City Museum and Art Gallery. A commission of five short films made from oral history recordings of experiences during lockdown (recorded by Julia Letts and illustrated/ animated by artist Sarah Millin).  https://www.museumsworcestershire.org.uk/collections/fromtheartgallerywithlove/theartofisolation/

I Dig Canals – A project looking at the role of women in the restoration of the canal network in the West Midlands and the Black Country. Run by Alarum Theatre and resulting in oral histories, archive research, podcasts, a film, a play and a book.  https://alarumtheatre.co.uk/currentshow/idigcanals/  

Wesley Memorial Church, Oxford – A collection of audio stories about the life and faith journeys of members of the congregation of the Wesley Memorial Church in Oxford. The recordings were collected by volunteers in the church’s heritage group. Extracts have been edited for the website and a podcast made. 


Sea Mills 100 – An  NLHF funded project to commemorate 100 years of Sea Mills, a community along the River Avon in Bristol. Alongside many other activities, the Sea Mills 100 volunteers recorded interviews with local residents, researched local archives, created a museum in a phone box, held events, documented lockdown, interacted with the local school and created podcasts.  


Destination Lydney Harbour – Creation of oral history recordings and an audio introduction in the Visitor’s Centre, created in a former storage shed at Lydney Docks, Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire.   

Severn Valley Lives in the Landscape – Volunteers recorded a collection of oral history interviews from those who had worked or lived on the site of Severn Valley Country Park, once a coal mine. These are on the website and in an interactive display in the Visitor’s Centre.  

Falling Sands Viaduct – Severn Valley Railway: A collection of oral history recordings with some of the original founder and volunteers on the Severn Valley Railway, collected by volunteers as part of the Falling Sands Viaduct heritage project. Extracts and podcasts on website.   


Market Gardening Memories – The Hive, Worcestershire: A collection of 15 oral histories recorded by volunteers on market gardening in the Vale of Evesham. Clips from the interviews were used in the project exhibition, app and resource packs.  https://www.explorethepast.co.uk/2020/04/marketgardeningheritagerecordingmemories/  

Museum of Carpet – New Talks for New Audiences: An NLHF funded project to make use of existing oral history recordings in the archives of the Museum of Carpet to create new illustrated talks and digital media. 

The Story of Hardwick Green Meadows – The culmination of an oral history project in South West Worcestershire (Hardwick, Pendock, Corse Lawn) coordinated by Worcestershire Wildlife Trust, as part of a wider NLHF heritage project. Volunteers helped produce and voice an audio story containing extracts from 20 interviews.  https://www.worcswildlifetrust.co.uk/blog/hardwickgreenmeadows/hardwickgreenmeadowsprojectfinalthoughts  

Brine Memories – Save Our Brine Baths: An NLHF  project to collect and share the memories of those that worked in or used the saltwater baths in Droitwich Spa. Project on hold due to Covid 19, but will result in oral history interviews, a school project, memory boxes and an interactive exhibition.  

Collecting, Using and Sharing Memories – Oral History in the Classroom: An Historical Association Webinar run in partnership with the Oral History Society and presented by Julia Letts for primary and secondary school teachers. 

Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service at the Hive (WAAS) (Maggie Tohill) 

The Hive 

I have continued to work on an externally funded archive cataloguing project this year, so things were already less busy for me on the oral history front before the Covid pandemic struck.  I have been able to continue to give advice to local groups and organisations who are thinking of undertaking projects, including Covid related ones, answer enquiries about our audio holdings and deal with potential deposits.   

In February the Hive hosted the exhibition for the Moving to the City migration project which our outreach staff had previously worked on.   


The Market Gardening Heritage project reported on last year continued into this year.  I undertook some summarising training with the volunteers so that they could produce detailed summaries of each interview and highlight potential snippets to use in the project exhibition, resource pack and on our webpages.  My fellow West Midlands networker Julia Letts undertook the sound editing work for the project to create the actual soundbites.  Some have already been shared on twitter and in a blog post.  


Several World War II anniversaries took place during lockdown, so I spent some time delving into our World War II oral history collection looking for suitable soundbites for our outreach team to use in various activities and share on social media.  See https://www.explorethepast.co.uk/2020/05/rememberingveday75thanniversary/ and https://www.explorethepast.co.uk/2020/05/rememberingthedunkirkevacuations2/  

We also had some general media interest with Channel 5 opting to use one of our soundbites in their ‘VE Day: The Lost Films’ programme. 

For VJ Day 75 we worked with the Mercian Regiment Museum and Worcester Cathedral to produce an online exhibition using images, newspapers, film and clips from our oral history interviews to explore Worcestershire connections to the war in the Far East.  See https://www.explorethepast.co.uk/vjday75/   During lockdown and for a long time after much of the external project work and training usually undertaken by staff was curtailed.  Working from home, however, did give us the opportunity to continue some transcribing and summarising work relating to earlier projects and gave staff who wouldn’t normally undertake oral history work a chance to be involved.  One member of staff for instance was inspired to write a cinema trail based on the interview she was working on.  See https://www.explorethepast.co.uk/2020/07/followinthefootstepsofclaudebernardleaketoworcesterscinemas/   

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