In June, Sophie, Cora and Rosemary from SFA met with Lily Daniels (@terracottalily) from Seventeen Nineteen (@17Nineteen), a Churches Conservation Trust (CCT) project located in Sunderland’s East End, with funding from the National Heritage Lottery Fund. The project is responsible for the restoration of Holy Trinity Church and reconnecting the city with the history of ‘Old Sunderland’. Alongside this, Seventeen Nineteen is a co-created space for local history and culture, and Lily works to empower volunteers called the Curious Creators (see their brief here), to uncover the stories of the Sunderland community, and work with illustrators and graphic designers to make resources for the conservation project. Lily reached out to us to discuss how we go about researching underrepresented narratives in the local community, as well as our methods for populating the archive. She also recognised that it can be difficult for underrepresented groups to access elitist archival spaces, and wanted to know how we go about welcoming a range of people to explore our archive.
We were very excited to speak to Lily and discuss the experiences and skills gained from both SFA and the Seventeen Nineteen project, particularly as Sunderland is a local northern community which has been hit by different kinds of hardship in comparison to the South. We wanted to share our collaboration here and also spotlight one of the amazing Curious Curators volunteering for the Seventeen Nineteen project, Ginny Quigley, and the creative diary she put together to remember the stories of working-class children in Sunderland’s industries, ranging from the 18th to the 20th Centuries.
SFA & Seventeen Nineteen
After speaking with Lily, we instantly spotted similarities between both of our projects. Both SFA and Seventeen Nineteen aim to preserve the voices of underrepresented groups, with different methods in mind. SFA aim to document the voices of Sheffield women and feminists, both past and present, with a focus on filling the gap in the historical record where female narratives should be, mostly through the use of oral interviews. Seventeen Nineteen and the Curious Curators similarly aim to uncover the forgotten stories of a diverse range of people throughout Sunderland’s history, with a focus on creativity, illustration and interpretation. Our projects have similar goals in mind, with different ways of reaching those goals.
One of the questions that Lily had, particularly as the aim of the Curious Creators is to provide a welcoming space that brings together people from different backgrounds, was how the SFA go about ensuring our work is inclusive of all, both when recording stories and when inviting others to access the archive. As volunteers, SFA recognise that we hold a position of privilege, particularly as we have the time and space to be able to fill the gap in the historical record, and therefore we must ensure our project continues to be intersectional and encompasses a range of stories. Specifically, our recent projects, both #WomenMakeSheffield (sparked by our Women’s History Month tweets) and Women in Lockdown, have aimed to highlight and record the experiences of women that have not necessarily been captured in the past.
Women’s History Month 2021
During lockdown, in our Women’s History Month Twitter campaign (see a summary here), we chose to spotlight women and the work they are doing in Sheffield from all walks of life, and not just those who are talked about frequently in the media, or the women we often hear about when learning about Sheffield’s history. To name a few women who are contributing to the Sheffield community in the present moment; we talked about the work of Désirée Reynolds (@desreereynolds), author, journalist, DJ, and now writer in residence at Sheffield City Archives, who is exploring the archives to uncover the stories of marginalised people in Sheffield, particularly Black and Brown voices. There’s also Ellie Simpson (@TheActualEllie), international RaceRunning athlete, Sheffield Hallam graduate, and ambassador for Cerebral Palsy Sport; and Warda Yassin (@warda_ahy), British-Born Somali poet, teacher, and Sheffield Poet Laureate. We also talked about women in Sheffield’s past; Louise Jennings (1919-2018) was a trans WW2 veteran who fought at the Battle of Dunkirk, and depicted Sheffield’s vibrant culture in the 20th Century through her paintings. Additionally, we highlighted Dorrett Buckley-Greaves MBE, founding member of SADACCA (Sheffield and District Afro Caribbean Community Association) which became a major pillar of the Burngreave community in Sheffield. And there’s Ros Wall (1954/5-2010), pioneering feminist, socialist, and founder of Gwenda’s Garage (which trained women as mechanics), Sheffield Lesbian Line and Sheffield Women’s Cultural Club.
Overall, we found this to be a great exercise for connecting with a range of people online, who shared their testimonies of these women, during a period of disconnect resulting from lockdown. The campaign has led to ideas about the Sheffield women we would like to research and learn more about as part of the larger #WomenMakeSheffield project (soon to be launched as a series of blog posts here).
Women in Lockdown
For Women in Lockdown, we are keen to hear about a range of experiences of the pandemic and are therefore looking to talk to different communities in Sheffield to explore these stories further, especially as the stories of marginalised groups are less likely to have been told throughout history. There has been little effort to find out more about the stories of people of colour, migrants and refugees, LGBTQ+ people, neurodivergent people and disabled people, and the Women in Lockdown project aims to find out more about the experiences of women from these communities in Sheffield. Our first approach to the project was much more open, inviting women from all walks of life to contribute their stories. However, we recognised that a much more focused approach was required; we are looking to contact specific charities, societies, and networks to ensure that women feel their stories are actively being listened to, and preserved throughout history. We decided it is much better to communicate specifically with communities, rather than assuming women will come forward to tell their stories to an organisation that they’ve not necessarily had an interaction with previously.
Accessing Archival Spaces
Lily also wanted to know about how we go about welcoming people from a range of backgrounds into an archival space that could be seen as accommodating only to the elite few. Since our goals at SFA are to encompass stories from all women, particularly those who have not been central to the narrative in the past, we welcome anyone with an interest in feminist activism to access our collection for free. We have clear instructions on how to access Sheffield City Archive where our collection is housed, via our website here. In addition, as we recognise it can be difficult to navigate the endless sections of an archive, we have included a catalogue of our collection here, with reference numbers.
We also have a named contact at the archive, that we can communicate with if there are ever any questions or issues from people accessing our collection. We’ve found this to be particularly helpful when communicating with members of the public, especially as the contact at the archive is aware of our collection and what is within our remit. During lockdown, we took the opportunity to move a lot of our work online and provide digital content, which is open access and not behind any sort of paywall. We are looking to build a digital audio-visual archive for Women in Lockdown, and ensure that those who have contributed have the opportunity to listen to their recording and see where it has been situated amongst the other submissions. Eventually, we are hoping to house contributions in the archive which will be more accessible to those wanting to access it physically rather than digitally. There is still so much more work to be done around accessibility in archives, and we are hoping to work continuously with Sheffield City Archives to improve access to our feminist collection, as well as communicating with a range of groups to ensure their record is preserved.
Meet Curious Curator, Ginny
It was incredibly interesting to hear more about the projects that Lily has helped coordinate alongside the volunteers at Seventeen Nineteen, and the creative work they are doing to uncover the stories of a diverse range of people throughout Sunderland’s history. We are therefore delighted to introduce Ginny Quigley, Curious Curator from the local area of Chesterfield, and the diary she created to represent the lives of children in Sunderland’s industries. Here is a mini blog post Ginny wrote for us, talking about the project in more detail:
Hi, I’m Ginny! I’m from and live in Chesterfield, where I did my A-Levels at St Mary’s Catholic High School. I studied History at Durham University, at St Chad’s College, between 2017-2020. Since finishing university, I’ve been volunteering as a Curious Curator for Seventeen Nineteen in Sunderland with The Churches Conservation Trust. Whilst volunteering, I’ve made a diary on the children of Sunderland between 1719-1961, to place in the ‘Cabinet of Curiosities’ exhibition in Holy Trinity Church in Sunderland. Beginning in 1700, the exhibition will explore Sunderland’s history through art and objects to enable the people of Sunderland to further engage and resonate with its past.
The inspiration for the diary came when I began researching a topic to share in the exhibition. Initially, I became interested in the cholera outbreak in Sunderland in 1831-2. During this, I learned about Isabella Hazard, a 12-year-old girl from the Quayside in Sunderland who became the first known death from cholera in Sunderland. Isabella’s experience of cholera as a child made me think more broadly about children’s experiences in Sunderland throughout history.
When researching the historical experiences of children in Sunderland, I came across a photograph of a group of boys who helped build a cargo ship during the First World War. The photograph is significant as not only does it capture children in Sunderland during the First World War, but shows the major contribution they made to Sunderland’s shipbuilding industry during the war.
After finding the photograph I decided to make an object which reflected children’s experiences in Sunderland throughout history. I wanted to create an object for the exhibition that people could still relate to whilst preserving the experiences of the children of Sunderland from the past. As diaries have been used throughout history by children and continue to be written today, I decided that a diary was an ideal object to create for the exhibition.
The diary first explores children’s contribution to Sunderland’s industries between the mid-18th century to the Second World War. These industries include Sunderland’s pottery industry, mining and collier ships. The diary provides copies of reports from inspections during the later 19th century on a glass factory in Sunderland. The report details the conditions of girls as young as 12 who collected bottles from the kilns and the consequent poor health they suffered. The diary also reveals children’s longstanding contribution to the shipbuilding industry in Sunderland. However, it also shares the hidden work of boys and girls behind the walls of Sunderland Workhouse in its pin-making factory.
The second part of the diary alternatively focuses on debates between the late 1920s to 1950 on whether children should remain in school rather than entering industry.
The final pages share some of the recreational activities of children in Sunderland. These include holidays at Roker beach and attending annual sports days put on by Sunderland shipbuilding industries for workers and their families.
I’ve enjoyed making the diary and volunteering with Seventeen Nineteen so much! I’m currently working with other volunteers at Seventeen Nineteen to digitise it on Google Arts & Culture. I’m excited for the diary to be exhibited in Holy Trinity Church, where the historical contribution and experiences of the children of Sunderland can be further shared and remembered.
Ginny’s diary will be housed as part of the Cabinet of Curiosities exhibition at Holy Trinity Church, where it is hoped that people will be able to sit and view the diary privately. Ginny is also working to digitise some of the drawings and showcase these on Google Arts and Culture, and the Seventeen Nineteen project are also working on preserving the diary through a range of avenues. Watch this space for the link to the project!
We hope this blog post has given you an insight into the conversation we had with fellow northern community project, Seventeen Nineteen, and that you enjoyed hearing more about the work of Ginny as one of the Curious Curators who volunteers within the project. These types of collaborations are crucial for helping SFA develop ideas and continuously improve the work we are doing to document Sheffield women and their lives.