Retrat de grup dels treballadors de la fàbrica de gas Barrau al carrer Nou, a prop de la Gróber. S'identifica a Josep Benito, Inocencio Benitop, Vida, Albertí, Boix pare, Boix Fill i Castells. Image: Public domain via Europeana.
Wherever there have been labourers, there’s a working-class heritage. It can be found in the places they worked, the places they socialised, and the places they lived. It can be traced back to mills, mines, and even pubs and bars. The aim is to discover and share the extraordinary stories of ordinary people. For this, Historic England is providing a fund of £300,000 that is open for applications until May.
Working-class heritage is an often underrepresented part of our histories, but this fund will allow the histories of these communities to stand alongside England’s more well-known luxury heritage of castles and kings. As we move away from industrialisation in much of Europe, grants like these are a way of protecting the very heritage that many communities were built upon. There are undoubtedly many figures whose mark upon our world today goes unnoticed due to their working-class status.
Working-class heritage tends to be thought of under the umbrellas of industrial heritage or socialist narratives, and while this fund does promote projects like this, it’s also aimed at involving local communities in their own working-class roots. The fund also hopes to encourage communities to promote the heritage of individuals and their achievements, rather than just buildings and structures. Restored industrial spaces often only show the physical remains, which neglects the stories of those who worked there, whereas this initiative is much broader.
The grants are open to community groups and heritage organisations with plans to celebrate any working-class histories in their areas. The initiative is looking for interesting projects at former factories, mines, pubs, or anywhere that might hold stories from previous workers. They are particularly interested in grass-roots projects with lower budgets that can make working-class heritage more accessible. Furthermore, these projects can also offer an opportunity for young people to get involved with their community’s heritage.
The initiative echoes English Heritage’s 2022 plans to celebrate the working-class, which were announced earlier this year. English Heritage will be unveiling several historic plaques in London that highlight working-class individuals and their achievements. One of these plaques will recognise Oliver Heaviside’s achievements in developing telecommunications – Heaviside was a self-taught electrician whose work underpins modern understandings of electromagnetism.
Heritage for the sake of heritage
Regeneration of former working-class areas is a common theme across Europe and the UK currently, but the ‘adaptive reuse’ approach does not always prioritise working-class communities. Funding opportunities like this offer local people a way of preserving their heritage without having to justify the finances to developers. It might appear simpler to spend money on regenerative projects that transform former working-class buildings into something new and upmarket, but these projects run the risk of erasing valuable histories about the original labourers. The grants offer a chance for heritage to be promoted without commercialisation.
Historic England is open to all types of projects, particularly those that are community led. For example, they could be self-guided walking tours, artistic projects, or something digital. With the guidance to keep the projects under a £10,000 budget, it will be up to heritage enthusiasts to find creative and interesting ways of promoting the stories of the everyday. In many places, archives and histories of the working class have already been compiled, but there’s never been an opportunity to highlight them until now.