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 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 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.