Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Favourite thing in archive? An archivist

The young archivist team at Paganel Archives
We've been asked to blog about our favourite things in Archives for explore your archive week.  Archives are great, but my favourite thing in Paganel Archives are the young archivists. They're (literally) what makes the Archives!

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Suffragettes Unseen

Christina Broom,
Museum of London Collection

Listening to Meryl Streep’s interview this week, about women in film, films made by women and about women, following the release of Suffragette!, we are reminded of how much unseen history of women there is, not necessarily undocumented but certainly undervalued in its potential, particularly that recorded, made by and about women.

A visit to Museum of London last week to see the Christina Broom exhibition ‘Soldiers and Suffragettes’ was an eye opening experience for me in many ways. Museum of London Docklands is a lovely space, situated along the Thames at the evocatively named West India Quay, giving you a sense of the river’s trading history, a very different feel to it’s sister site in the heart of the City.

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Moseley St Mary’s Heritage & Access Project

GeoPhysics survey by StrataScan prior to path realignment
I’ve recently become involved in an HLF funded heritage project at St Mary’s Church Moseley – or more specifically the churchyard. The large churchyard at the back of the church on St Mary's Row is the only piece of public green space in the village but having fallen into disrepair and becoming a focus for anti-social activity it has been much underused for many years. 

Parishioners and local residents have made great strides over the last 5 years to cut back overgrown vegetation and make general improvements to the site – and a Project committee was formed which, following public consultation, produced a MasterPlan and subsequent funding application.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Still Going Swimmingly!

Stirchley Baths ceremonial plaque 1910.
Image: stirchleybaths.org
Begun in 1910 and opened in mid 1911, Stirchley swimming baths (on Bournville Lane) was a popular local facility for nearly eighty years before it closed to the public in 1988. By this time the Edwardian building was in need of significant attention, as were many other swimming pools in the city, and it fell into even greater disrepair as the years passed.

But we can now see a renovated and refurbished building emerging from behind the hoardings as the major project reaches completion. 

Monday, 24 August 2015

At Home with Vanley Burke

At Home with Vanley Burke at the Ikon (until 27 September) is unlike most exhibitions in that it presents the visitor with the entire contents of Vanley’s flat in Nechells, north-east Birmingham. Most of us know Vanley as a photographer, working in Britain and Birmingham since the 1960s, but he is also a collector and archivist. This exhibition allows us an unusual insight into Vanley’s own world. As Marlene Smith writes in the excellent accompanying guide, ‘now we see him’.

Monday, 10 August 2015

Birmingham's Hidden Spaces

Curzon Street Station. Image by Birmingham Post.
Do you look up at the historic architecture found above the gaudy line of every-town shop branding? Do you have a curiosity of what might be behind an interesting looking door or wall? If so, you are going to love Birmingham’s Hidden Spaces.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Fight for the Right!

In 2012-13 I worked on an exciting project called Fight for the Right: the Birmingham Suffragettes. Funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the project gave an opportunity for young women living in Birmingham to explore the activities of both sides of the suffrage campaign, militant and non-militant, that took place in the city in the early 1900s. A group of young women from two local schools, Kings Norton Girls’ School and Waverley School, who were aged 12-15 during the project, investigated social and political change by looking at different ways of campaigning and protesting by women who wanted the right to vote. The young women involved in the project believed that the Birmingham suffrage campaigners were an important part of their heritage. While some of those involved had some prior knowledge of the suffragettes, often little is known or understood by young women about the histories of women involved in the campaign that lived and acted locally. Fight for the Right aimed to re-dress the balance by exploring women’s voting history from a local perspective, focusing specifically on the activities of the Birmingham suffrage movement between 1909 and 1914. While primarily a local history project, participants also considered social and cultural change within women’s rights today and explored ideas about voting and politics.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Wide Eyed with Archives

Every time I wander through an archive store I get the same thrill from what is around me - a doorway into every imaginable subject, from its early beginnings to the present. Thursday was my last day working for Birmingham Archives & Heritage service. I’ve had an amazing 11 years working as a creative learning officer, an outreach and education worker, an engagement co-ordinator, a collections curator. The names have changed a bit but the core of the work, opening up Birmingham’s archive collections to people was constant throughout and with it the privilege of unfettered access to thousands of documents that tell the history of the City and it’s people.

A week before I left, I accompanied Paganel School on their year 6 trip to London to visit The National Archives, a repeat visit from last year for a school that has it’s own archive and a weekly archive after school club. Those kids know about archives first hand, they have catalogued collections, repackaged photographs and have captured their peers’ experiences of SATs and residentials for the next generation. They have helped preserve, build and capture the life of their school and know their story exists within it.

At the The National Archives we had a rare behind the scenes tour showing us just one of their 5 storage areas housing millions of documents. Our amazing guide wowed the children with tales of Jack the Ripper papers, and Elizabeth I’s signature, but it was the thought that they were also all already in there, listed on the census, (even though they’d need to wait another 90 years to see them) that really excited them. We only had time to look at one original document, a Victorian Child Prisoner’s record, detained for 15 days at age 11 for running away from school. The Paganel children were suitably shocked, not only at the sentence for a child the same age as they are, but at the diet which didn’t include any fruit or vegetables.

They interrogated the photos like old hands, inferring meaning from what they spotted and constructing stories as to how people had come to be in that situation. They used their own experiences from looking at archives and their own experiences as children to imagine the past and draw parallels with now. I noticed those same observation skills later when we walked through London back to Euston and they commented on the busyness of the Capital, the many homeless people we saw, the different coloured buses, landmarks that they’d only seen on the tv before.

Archives open eyes, to what was and has been, to what hasn’t been saved and needs to be and to what’s going on around us and how we fit into it. An endless source of stories and potential to open up the past and to inspire us for the future, outreach officer or school child.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Strangers on a Train at Chasewater

The Lichfield Festival has a fantastic track record of doing some really exciting intergenerational heritage projects in interesting places as part of their education and learning programme. In previous years young people have brought their family’s experiences of World War II onto the screen, made visits to the National Memorial Arboretum, interviewed a veteran held as a PoW in Sumatra, explored the massacre of Polish officers at Katyn and interviewed local residents about stories and fairytales they remember from their childhood.
Strangers on a train at Chasewater
This year is equally ambitious, with a challenge to young people to create a short film on the theme ‘Strangers on a Train’. A team of budding film makers scripted the three shorts which were filmed in a day at Chasewater Railway. The young people learnt film making skills, performed in front of the camera and assisted with directing. They were supported by drama specialist Jo Billingham and also PHC member Rachel Gillies – Community Film Maker.

The railway itself is a former colliery railway, which served the coalfields of the Cannock Chase area. It has since been restored in part with a two mile section operating as a passenger line. Both First Class and Second Class carriages were made available to the group for filming on the platform of Brownhills West Station. The attraction is run entirely by volunteers, who have created a space which looks and feels like the heyday of the steam era.

The three short films, ‘The Good, The Bad and the Cliché’, ‘Bomb on a Train’ and ‘The Wrong Ticket’ will be screened during the Festival at the Sol Cinema, ‘the world’s smallest solar movie theatre’ on Saturday 4th July, 10am-5pm at Three Spires Shopping Centre.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Culture on your doorstep - Billesley common

Billesley Common 1st edition Ordinance Survey 1831
This work is based on data provided through
www.VisionofBritain.org.uk and uses historical material
which is copyright 
of the Great Britain Historical
GIS Project and the University of Portsmouth
Here's Billesley Common in 1831.  A fair bit has changed since then (see the map below).  Maps are a great place to start finding out about a place - there's also some great images of Billesley Common, historical and other:

The Transport War Memorial
on Billesely Common
& Doug Smith's book about it

We also have historical websites, like William Darque's excellent A History of Birmingham Places and Placenames, and access to related statistics too, on sites like Vision of Britain

Billesley Common New popular edition Ordinance Survey 1945
This work is based on data provided through
www.VisionofBritain.org.uk and uses historical material
which is copyright 
of the Great Britain Historical 
GIS Project and the University of PortsmouthAdd caption
There's more sources we can find, giving us more statistics, more photos, more information.   Billesley was the site of one of the earliest council estates in Birmingham; It is also an area identified as a 'priority area' with ‘multiple factors of deprivation’, so it's not surprising to find a rich source of information from the city council (and indeed the Police).

So what's missing?  Why spend time focusing on an area which is already so well documented historically?

I guess for me it's all about who is involved in writing those 'histories', how they are presented and what control the people who own those 'stories' have.  And that's why we're looking to work in Billesley - building on conversations we have already documented as part of 'Stories from the Mill' project.

Billesely Stories - a project for which we are applying for funding is about documenting and representing the stories of people who live and work in Billesley.  We will document conversations, training and leading local volunteers to interview each other.  We will be working with local people and artists in whatever media appropriate - photography, film, dance, sculpture, poetry - whatever.  We will exhibit or perform in Billesley too - by local people, for local people, in the locality.

Perhaps we're working here for similar reasons to why  Nick Hennegan launched Maverick Theatre at the Billesley Pub in 1994 (much missed at the Billesley Pub).  It's where we live, they're our stories and we want to share them in the way we want to.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Meeting the heritage people

The first HeritageMeet was well attended (16 people), filling the back room of Kitchen Garden Cafe, who kindly let us use the room and kept our thirsts quenched too!

We raised a number of questions in informal chat, and asked people to leave their comments:

What kind of projects would you like to do?

The busiest sheet for responses - a range of great ideas, many of which we will be acting on - film, oral history, walking trails, 'street-by-street', women's and children's histories, intergenerational and not forgetting work in a local cemetery - the last one is something I'm hoping we'll be hearing more about soon! 

What skills would you like to share as part of the co-op?

Again a real range of skills - bid-writing, research, delivering workshops, promoting & networking, planning, digital archiving, conservation, blogging and social media, genealogical.

Such a great range of skills in our members, all of which we'll be drawing on to deliver some great projects. 

 Which other groups do you think we should work with?

Some great suggestions, some more general (youth groups, School Groups) which is great, perhaps building on some of our previous projects with Sarehole Mill, Hall Green Arts, Paganel Primary, Swanshurst School, Swan Corner Community Group, University of Birmingham.

Others more particular, all of which I hope we can work with in the future: Friends of the LoB, Northfield Arts Forum, FoBAH, Secret City Arts, Friends of Northfield Library, the Play House, Birmingham Peace Hub, Northfield Community Partnership, Civic Society Heritage, Bham Solihull Women's Aid, Heritage Forum, U3AHallfield School and Victoria College.

How do you think being part of a co-op could help you?

Great to see our objectives reflected back to us by our members! We will be working on how best to deliver:
Being part of a supportive network, keep me using Public engagement skills, Collaborating, connecting, new perspectives, learning and sharing new skills.

Next meeting 27th March 

Thanks everyone for coming to our first HeritageMeet.  Friday 27th March 1pm Cafe Aroma, Staff House, University of Birmingham will be our next regular Coop meeting, which you are all invited to.  It's been fantastic to meet so many inspiring individuals all interested in working together to better represent and promote People's Heritage!

Friday, 20 February 2015


Join us at HeritageMeet  Tuesday evening at the back of Fletcher's Bar, Kings Heath, for an informal drop in - find out what we're up to, and what's going on locally.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Rally for the Library of Birmingham

The rally was against the cuts being proposed to the libraries of Birmingham on National Libraries Day 7th Feb 2015, with speeches and performances from:

  • Carl Chinn, historian
  • Birmingham Poets Laureates, past and present 
  • A message of support from Benjamin Zephaniah
  • Vanley Burke, photographer
  • Judith Cutler, Writer
  • The Indian Workers Association
  • A representative from Refugee Action

Peoples Heritage Cooperative were there to show our support and also to document some of the visitors and protesters voices on 7th February. Please see this short video from the day, with clips from those interviews:

For more details see: