West Midlands 2016


Birmingham & area (Helen Lloyd)

For several years I’ve been asked by children and grandchildren of immigrants to help them record older generations’ memories of their countries of origin and of immigration and settlement in this country.  They realise that soon there’ll be no family members left who weren’t born in this country and they want to preserve a culture in which they take pride.  But this is the first year in which I’ve been asked by two groups to help with projects that wanted to use oral history to provide a critique of aspects of their culture (while still being proud of other aspects).  

A group of young women from Somaliland asked for training to record memories of FGM (female genital mutilation) with the aim of provoking discussion of a practice which they hope will soon cease.  They feel that the practice only survives because no-one talks about it and hope that when the project is completed, it will get people talking.  I also trained a group of women from a Muslim charity called the Amirah Foundation to record an oral history of domestic violence over the past 60 years, particularly in Muslim families (http://www.amirahfoundation.org/hitting-back).  Both projects involved a delicate balance between the desire to publicise an issue and the desire to protect the interviewees; but what I found most difficult was that some of the interviewers had also been victims and they struggled to keep their own experiences from affecting the interviews.

I also trained two TV producers to record an oral history of stillbirth (http://stillbirthstories.org) which resulted in a radio programme called We Need to Talk About Stillbirth, broadcast on Radio 4 in July – but although they’d both had stillbirths, they’d already learnt as journalists to prevent their own experiences from colouring their interviews.

I find it easier to train people to record experiences of immigration, when the interviewees know little about the experiences of their parents and grandparents’ generations, but are eager to learn.  I get frequent calls from people saying that nobody has recorded these experiences before and I used to respond by pointing out that I’ve done so and so have lots of other people.  But I now think there are other priorities apart from filling gaps in the archive.  Many immigrants tried to protect their children from knowledge of the racism they’d experienced, because they didn’t want to turn them against British society, so if younger generations now want to know more, they’ll benefit from recording these memories themselves, irrespective of how many interviews already exist in archives.I enjoyed helping some teenagers from a Caribbean church to record memories of Leaving A Land Of Paradise To Live In A Land Of Expectations, including family memories of a man who fought for Britain in both the First and Second World Wars.  I also helped a Bangladeshi charity called New Hope to record memories of traditional games – including Ludo, which apparently originated in India many centuries ago (http://www.nhbham.org/heritage-project).  I’m currently helping a group of young men from the Congo with a project called Minding Africans’ Hidden Memories, which will record memories of immigration from French-speaking countries, with a focus on mental health: http://www.africancoheritagehub.org/african-oral-history.  

(Some of the projects mentioned so far involved interviews in other languages and my experience of such projects over several years suggests that they should budget for at least twice what they expect to spend on interpreting and translation!)

I’ve recently given two days of training to retired members of the Birmingham Irish Association, to record the memories of labourers who came from Ireland to work on buildings such as the Bullring and Spaghetti Junction (http://www.birminghamirish.org.uk/news/26/we-built-this-city-project).  This week the project officer said she wished she’d budgeted for more training days:  the second session which assessed practice interviews was helpful, but she’d have liked two more days to assess the first few ‘real’ interviews.  I told her that most projects say they can’t get volunteers to commit to more than two days – and some projects only budget for one – but she was keen that I should urge Networkers to argue for a minimum of four days – which I’m now doing!

Next week (11.10.16) I’ll begin helping volunteers to explore the story of Silverdale – a former mining village in North Staffordshire – and in November I’ll attend a ballet at the Midlands Arts Centre called If I Could Reach Home, which incorporates some recordings I made with women refugees (https://macbirmingham.co.uk/event/if-i-could-reach-home).  I’m also giving talks on oral history for the Alzheimers Society, to groups of people who’ve only recently been diagnosed – plus other talks too numerous to list!

I’ll end by publicising two projects with which I’ve had no involvement, but which are recommended by the HLF in Birmingham: the Birmingham Prefabulous project, which is collecting memories of people living in prefab homes (http://www.birminghamconservationtrust.org/2016/06/06/prefabulous/) and the 50 Years of the Barford Tigers project in which young people recorded stories of their successful Birmingham hockey club to celebrate its 50th anniversary:https://www.hlf.org.uk/our-projects/50-years-barford-tigers

West Midlands (Julia Letts)

Another busy year in my patch (which includes parts of Worcestershire, Herefordshire, Shropshire, Staffordshire, Gloucestershire, the Black Country and over the border into Wales). I have continued to provide advice, support and training to groups running oral history projects in the area. In addition to organising tailored courses for many of the projects listed below, I also hosted an OHS/ BL Introduction to Oral History Course at the University of Worcester in June which was over-subscribed. The University has a vibrant history department, is keen to promote oral history and is a great supporter of the Oral History Society.

Below I have listed the projects with which I have had some involvement in the last 12 months:

Tales of the Vale  – A Forgotten Landscape

Between 2016 and 2018 I am training and mentoring a group of volunteers who are creating an oral history archive called Tales of Vale. The group is researching and recording interviews with people connected to A Forgotten Landscape’s project area (the Lower Severn Vale Levels from Avonmouth in the south, to the village of Shepperdine in the north). The volunteers will record at least 30 interviews with people who’ve grown up, lived, worked and shaped the landscape and those who’ve played a part in its development over the past century. 16 interviews have been recorded and summarised so far. The volunteers will work alongside a group of history researchers who are investigating even further back, visiting local archives and studying primary sources which shed more light on the history of the area. The two Tales of the Vale teams will eventually put together a booklet and mobile exhibition, which will include their historical findings, archive photographs and oral history recordings. This very exciting project is already producing a wealth of new material and providing volunteers with all sorts of opportunities to learn new skills. We are starting to upload extracts from the interviews on to the newly revamped website. Do take a look at  afl@southglos.gov.uk

New College, Worcester

To mark the 150th anniversary of New College Worcester (formerly Worcester College for the Blind), current students have interviewed former pupils and staff going right back to the 1940s. It was the first time I had worked with people with little or no sight, and I was astonished by their empathy and ability to respond to their interviewees despite the fact that they couldn’t see them.  We have collected 17 interviews so far and are now taking extracts from the interviews to create a CD, which will be narrated by the students. There will also be an exhibition, and extracts on both the website and in the sound domes in the Hive in Worcester. The project will culminate in a 150th anniversary service in Worcester cathedral in December 2016. http://www.newcollegeworcester.co.uk/celebrating

St Richard’s Voices; 30 years of memories. This project was completed in the summer of 2016 and I am delighted to say has been selected for presentation at the Hospice UK National Conference in November 2016. In 2015, I worked with 4 volunteers to record 26 oral histories with people who were key to the creation of St Richard’s Hospice in Worcestershire. These included nurses, doctors, volunteers, patients, patients’ families, shop workers, administrators and governors. The collection is now at the Hive in Worcester, and audio extracts are on the sound domes in the first floor gallery. In addition there is a website www.strichardsvoices.org.uk and a mobile exhibition with a sound post. A talk on the first 30 years of St Richard’s, illustrated with audio, has been developed and is being delivered by hospice volunteers. The project was funded by a Shared Heritage grant from HLF.  

The Worcester Spirit; Memories of Campus Life 1946 to 2016

The University of Worcester has just started this oral history project which will run until the end of 2017. There has been a college of Higher Education on the current University campus since 1946 when the Worcester Training College was set up as an ‘emergency college’ to train teachers at the end of the Second World War. The college finally became the University of Worcester 10 years ago, but this year, 2016, marks the 70th year of teaching students on the same site. Many of the current University staff work in the Nissan huts that housed the first 250 students! The University’s oral history project will capture memories of the Training College and chart the many changes it underwent over the decades. I will be training and mentoring current students who will be interviewing former staff, students and administrators. The planned outcomes include a website, a film, an exhibition and booklet. https://www.facebook.com/UniversityofWorcesterAlumni/

Llanwrtyd Wells Heritage Project – This project also reached its completion in the summer of 2016, with the opening of a heritage centre in a former chapel in the middle of Llanwrtyd Wells. The project started 6 years ago, when I first trained a small group of volunteers from the town. Since then they have been collecting oral history interviews, photos and memorabilia, all of which are now on display in the chapel. Extracts from the oral histories can be listened to on a touch screen (with transcriptions in both Welsh and English) and they cover themes such as ‘taking the waters’, pony trekking, farming, chapel life, Eistedfodds and the town’s shops. Volunteers also worked with the town’s school. The Year 6 children interviewed residents and produced a book of childhood memories.  www.llanwrtydhistorygroup.webs.com

The Look Back Project, Clun, Shropshire –  The Look Back heritage project interviewed people who knew the playwright John Osborne when he lived in Clun between 1986-1994 and people who remembered this area of South Shropshire in the 1950s.  I was involved in training and working with a group of 20 Year 8 history students at Bishop’s Castle Community College, and 12 local people who have recorded 21 interviews to date. I am currently editing these for the website. The full collection will be housed in the Shropshire Archives. In May 2016 there was a very successful weekend of festivities to mark 60 years since the first performance of Osborne’s groundbreaking play Look Back in Anger.  More details are on the website www.osborneandafter.org

Wolverhampton Art Gallery – Collecting Cultures – Black Art Group

Wolverhampton Art Gallery has collected a number of oral history interviews as part of its HLF funded project to collect, promote and share the works of the Wolverhampton Young Black Artist Group from 1979 to present. Following oral history training with me, staff and volunteers recorded interviews with people in Wolverhampton who had connections with the Black Art Movement, or who had been influenced by it. Extracts from these interviews have been edited by Helen Lloyd and will be on display in Wolverhampton Art Gallery in October 2016, as part of an exhibition of contemporary Black British artists called ‘Back to Black’.  http://www.wolverhamptonart.org.uk/whats-on/back-to-black/   

Voters and Volunteers – Pershore Women’s Institute/ Heritage and History Society

This project, funded by the HLF’s WW1 funding stream ‘Then and Now’ and coordinated by Prof Maggie Andrews at the University of Worcester, is looking at the Home Front during the Great War in and around Pershore in South Worcestershire. This was an area of market gardening and fruit growing, and the town’s jam factories played a major role in the war, pulping fruit and producing jam for the front line. Women were involved in all aspects of work, on farms, in orchards and in the factories. Pershore WI, founded in 1916, was one of the first branches in the country and celebrated its 100th anniversary this year. Members of many local groups have contributed to researching and producing a book called ‘How the Pershore Plum won the Great War’ and a number of oral history interviews are currently being recorded, looking at the legacy of WW1 on this area and its inhabitants.   https://ww1inthevale.wordpress.com/category/pershore-wi

Queen Street Gateway Townscape Heritage Scheme, Wolverhampton

This project is just getting underway in Wolverhampton. Queen Street was once ‘the gateway’ to Wolverhampton. It was laid out in the 18th century and contains some of the City’s finest and most important buildings. In the 19th century it was a thriving trading centre and the main route into the City from Wolverhampton’s railway stations. The Townscape scheme seeks to bring the street back to its former glory, with volunteers involved in every aspect of Queen Street’s heritage including research, conservation and oral history. I have recently trained a small group of volunteers who are about to start interviewing local people and shop keepers to create an archive of recordings of ‘Queen Street in living memory’. Extracts from the recordings will be used in an App which will guide visitors around a heritage trail. http://www.wolverhampton.gov.uk/article/9022/What-is-the-Scheme

Studley Needle Heritage Group, Redditch

This community group in Studley is starting to collect oral histories with people in the village who were involved in the needle trade in living memory. Studley is world famous for needle-making, dating back to Tudor times when Huguenot settlers moved to the village bringing the skill with them. In its heyday, Studley’s needle factories produced more needles than anywhere else in England. This continued through the 20th century until cheap imports from the Far East decimated the industry. Although some oral histories of needle workers have been collected in the past, there are few known accounts from the Studley workforce. This project hopes to rectify that. With funding from HLF’s Sharing Heritage, a group of volunteers are embarking on collecting at least 10 interviews with local people involved in the needle trade. These will be used to produce a permanent display in Studley’s village hall.     

Lighting the Golden Fire, Hereford

Rural Media in Hereford is recording a number of filmed oral history interviews for its digital arts project on the production of cider and its role in Herefordshire’s economy, culture and way of life from 1945 to the present day. The project is called ‘Golden Fire’ (a reference to Laurie Lee’s description of the drink in Cider with Rosie). The oral history interviews will be used alongside archive film and photographs in the creation of a mobile exhibition and a Golden Fire app, which will be launched next spring 2017.

Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service (Maggie Tohill)

For much of the year I have been seconded to an externally funded archive cataloguing project, so things have inevitably been much quieter for me on the oral history front this time round.  

I have continued to give advice to local groups and organisations who are thinking of undertaking projects and to answer enquiries about our audio holdings.  We continue to get quite a bit of interest in our collections from local students.  One particularly intriguing enquiry came from a student working on an art exhibition who wanted descriptions of anti-radar measures during World War II.  

We have received several deposits of oral history material at the Hive during the year.  These have included recordings made as part of the St Richard’s Hospice: 30 years of memories project to record the memories of people who were involved in the creation of the hospice.  Some of the recordings have also featured on our sound domes in the Hive.  We also received some recordings made about 10 years ago as a data collecting exercise for the Kidderminster and District Archaeological and Historical Society publication ‘Kidderminster & District in World War II.’  

I have continued to organise work for volunteers and placements wishing to undertake oral history work as part of the range of tasks they undertake with our User Services Team.  This has been a particularly useful way of getting transcripts and summaries of the single/stray interviews which people bring into us which are not part of a specific project.  

In addition we recorded a special one-off interview with a 94 year old gentleman whose family wanted to make some permanent record of his long association with the City of Worcester and in particular his working life at the now demolished Ronkswood Hospital.  We operate a Life Stories collection at the Hive for interviews which don’t fit a specific project so were able to add the recording to that collection.

As reported last year our Learning and Outreach Team have been involved with Jestaminute Community Theatre (JCT)’s project ‘The Start of Something Big’.  This is a two-year project to investigate the industrial heritage of Redditch during the new town development years.  As well as recording reminiscences of local stories, exhibitions, podcasts and performances are planned.