After more than a year of project development, partnership building and fundraising, walking In Others Footsteps created an outstanding artistic and heritage programme celebrating the remarkable Elizabeth Roberts Working Class Oral History Archive.
Our programme, which ran from January to July 2018 in Barrow, Lancaster and Preston, revealed the extraordinary content of one of the most important collections of oral history testimonies in the UK.
Part of the project involved film makers Jon Randall and Tom Diffenthall’s film Give Me Today, Anytime, which won the Arts & Humanities Research Council Inspiration Award.
Give Me Today, Anytime features interviews with people in Lancaster, Preston and Barrow about their domestic life and combined them with voices from the past recorded by Lancaster historian, Elizabeth Roberts during the 1970s and 1980s. Elizabeth was awarded an Honorary Fellowship of Lancaster University in 2019.
The Arts & Humanities Research Council Research in Film Award recognises and rewards the best short films which are either inspired or directly linked to arts and humanities research.
The film (below) was supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, premiered at an oral history conference at Lancaster University in May 2018 and was also screened at The Dukes in Lancaster; Barrow Library and The Continental in Preston.
The archive is remarkable in its extensiveness. In total the archive contains 545 tape recordings, questionnaires and transcripts of interviews of more than 3 million words. The transcripts are all fully indexed by subject.
Collected in the 1970s when oral history was a relatively new form of data collection, the Elizabeth Roberts Archive is a unique and important source for the history of working-class life in north-west England.
Working with a fantastic team, the programme delivered a series of original artistic, film, participative and heritage events to illustrate and highlight this notable archive. We engaged in fun and enjoyable ways with local communities to encourage the collection of memories and artefacts linked to the archives and specific locations in Barrow, Lancaster and Preston.
This subject was the starting point for our programme of innovative arts and heritage because the archive formed the basis for Dr Roberts’ ground-breaking work on working-class life in industrial towns, which has been published in various forms, including books and articles.
It was of interest not only to the local communities of Barrow, Lancaster and Preston but also on a regional and national stage given the archive will, after being digitised in 2018, be readily available online as a unique oral history resource.
The archive was remarkable in its extensiveness. In total the archive contains 545 tape recordings, questionnaires and transcripts of interviews of more than 3 million words. The transcripts are all fully indexed by subject.
Elizabeth Roberts’ Working Class Oral History Archive is a unique resource, through which we can hear the voices of people born at the end of the nineteenth century sharing their perspectives on the timeless themes of birth, love, marriage, health, work, family and death.
The original recordings are now stored at Lancashire Archives as part of their sound collection, offering artists a rare opportunity to reflect on and interpret working-class people, especially women, talking about their lives from over 100 years ago.
The creative programme for Walking In Others Footsteps was a series of site specific/site responsive works that will take place in the locations where the Elizabeth Roberts Archive was compiled, in Preston, Lancaster and Barrow.
We commissioned and collaborated with artists from a wide variety of artforms but who are all passionate and excited about engaging in an investigation of the content of the archive and locations as part of the process in making their work. The investigation of this unique archive offers our artists a rich source material – including particularly valuable insights into what working class people felt and how they behaved, community, history etc – and we are delighted with how they responded to these “raw materials” in their own individual ways.
Our team on the project – Steve Fairclough, Dan Fox, Pippa Hale, Mandy Coe, Jon Randall and Tom Diffenthal – created sound installations, playful and participatory artwork that included making, digital technology, community participation and street play, open poetry workshops, artefact workshops and a short creative documentary film which won the RIFA 2018 Inspiration Award (public category), showing how voices from the past cross-over and exist in dialogue with modern life.
All this was possible thanks to funding from Arts Council England, the Heritage Lottery Fund, Sir John Fisher Foundation and the Regional Heritage Centre. Indeed, the Regional Heritage Centre (RHC) at Lancaster University has been a key stakeholder in the programme since the notion of creating this magical project was first floated. Without the continued support from the RHC, Walking In Others Footsteps could never have happened.