Historic England promotes working-class heritage in England

Historic England funds several projects on untold stories of working-class England.

Working-class heritage gets the short end of the stick in the heritage stories we tell today. Many working-class individuals and communities are unrepresented in historical narratives. Historic England is working to increase public participation in such communities to showcase their heritage. They have announced 57 grants to promote untold stories of working-class communities from all over England.

Most working-class heritage projects find grants under the label of industrial heritage or social narratives. Most of these projects apply the ‘adaptive re-use’ approach. The grants emphasise restoring the physical remains of the industrial sites rather than the stories and histories of individuals and communities. This does not always prioritise the interests of working-class heritage.

Today, however, more and more grants are engaging themselves with curating and collecting stories of working-class individuals and communities. The funds from these grants aim to encourage communities and heritage organisations to promote local individuals and their achievements rather than tangible heritage such as objects and buildings. The initiatives undertaken are low-budget and grassroots but involve active participation from the younger generation. Thus, allowing them to connect closely with their heritage.

Historic England issues 57 grants to community-led projects.

One such funding organization involved in promoting local stories and histories is ‘Historic England’. Historic England announced in February of 2022, a new programme called ‘Everyday Heritage Grants: Celebrating Working Class Histories’. Under this venture, communities were free to choose how they wanted to showcase their heritage. For example, they could organise self-guided walking tours, artist projects or digital formats to share and promote their stories, as long as the budget did not exceed £10,000.

After the announcement of this venture, Historic England received an overwhelming response of over 500 creative and innovative proposals. Historic England has decided to award total funding of £774,000, allocating from £6,000 – £25,000 per project. They believe heritage is all and lay emphasis on public participation and community-led projects. The main objective of this venture is to narrate untold stories of people from across England.

Some interesting projects that received funding under this venture are:

Peel Street Mill

This project received funding of £10,000. This project will highlight the stories of former workers from Peel Street Mill – a former textile mill in Heywood, Greater Manchester. This project is led by PossAbilities – a social enterprise supporting 400 people with learning disabilities. The project uses web content, a publication, teaching resources for schools, films, animations and artworks, a physical model of the site as it was, and a walking trail in their local well-being garden to communicate the history of the mill and its local community.

Staiths & Me

The project is based in Dunston, Gateshead and received a funding of £7,000. Staiths are iconic wooden structures built in 1893 to drop more than 5.5 million tons of coal from Durham into ships for transportation worldwide. The project is led by Dunston Community Centre, this project will engage with local young people aged 15 – 20 to celebrate the Staiths. The project uses films, music, storyboards and pictures to tell the story of Staiths and how they shaped the lives of locals.

Staiths in Dunston were for loading onto ships. Image: wikipedia.com. Author – AlasdairW. CC BY-SA 3.0

2Funky Arts (2FA)

The project will use a £10,000 grant to explore 50 years of Leicester’s nightlife. The focus will be on Music of Black Origin (MOBO), including hip hop, soul, reggae and jazz, with 45 volunteers creating a portable exhibition of photography and personal anecdotes.

Disabled People and the Ripon Workhouse

The project is led by the Rippon Museum Trust and received funding of £11,000. It uncovers stories of disabled people who were inmates or staff at Ripon Workhouse from the Victorian times to the 1940s.

Using archival records and collections, a group of people with physical & learning disabilities within the community of Ripon will research and produce written and other creative responses to engage visitors in new stories, supported by curatorial volunteers. They will also work with an artist specialising in co-curation to create artistic responses. Their work will help create powerful and personal new interpretation materials for Ripon Workhouse’s permanent display integrating disabled people’s stories into the museum.

Halifax Stars

It is an intergenerational project which aims to innovatively explore and celebrate the working-class culture of boxing clubs around Halifax. It will record the stories of older fighters and the gyms that used to be a prominent feature of the area. Led by the boxing fraternity and young people, the project will produce filmed oral history interviews and maps of key sites as well as an exhibition and an events series. The project received funding of £10,000.