A blog post written by volunteer Katherine Riley on her first oral history interview for the project and how it made her think about women's activism across the whole North of England...
With thanks to Ruth as well for her involvement in the project.
On 15th July 2019, I conducted my first oral history interview for the Remembering Resistance project. I met with Ruth Colbridge, who is a strong advocate for changes to the school curriculum which allow children to learn in a freer, more creative environment. She became increasingly politically active after the birth of her children, and used her skills in PR to organise school strikes protesting Michael Gove’s stringent overhaul of SATs tests. The stress caused to pupils, parents and teachers by the restrictive curriculum was contrasted by hugely successful ‘alternative education’ events at Williamson Park, Fairfield Orchard, and other locations, which allowed the children to learn outside the classroom while spending time in the local community.
Ruth spoke of her particular motivation to have the events covered by local and national media, particularly after the government published figures denying the widespread impact of similar strikes which took place all over the country. Although according to a Whitehall source ‘the number of children involved may have been as few as 1,000’, Ruth relayed how more than 1,000 people participated in the strikes in Lancaster alone. Media coverage of the event by Sky News, BBC Breakfast, and Radio Lancashire (amongst others) constituted an opportunity to spotlight activism in the North of England – an area of protest Ruth feels is neglected by mainstream news sources.
Ruth expressed admiration for Lancaster’s rich history of protest and lively alternative scene, something she was not wholly aware of at first. She wondered whether this played a part in building momentum for the school strikes. It is certainly something which has inspired me to help document the history of Northern activism – stories of which, permeated by resilient and determined women, continue to emerge right across the North of England.
We had a terrific workshop last week where we got together to plan the next steps for Remembering Resistance. The current project comes to an end in September, so we're making plans for the next phase and really enjoyed spending time thinking about what we want to do next.
We started by discussing the values of the project and came up with the amazing list of values in the word cloud above. Then we went on to think about what we wanted the project to achieve and what form it might take. The team came up with some terrific ideas that we're excited to explore.
Thanks so much to all those who came along - we can't wait to see where the Remembering Resistance bus takes us next!
Inspired by an interview with Lisa Turnbull...
In 2015, Durham County Council proposed changes to Teaching Assistant’s (TAs) contracts which would lead to a salary cut of up to 23%. The mainly women TAs, nicknamed the Lions of Durham, began a campaign opposing the changes which lasted into 2017.
The TAs organised rallies, protests, and strike action, and gained widespread support, including from the Durham Miners’ Association who said: “the women always stood behind the miners, the miners will stand behind these women”.
At the end of the dispute, The Northern Echo summed up their view saying: “They may not have achieved all of their aims but they can feel content that they reminded the wider community about the valuable role they play helping the next generation to achieve their potential. We value them.”
Involvement in political campaigning also had a significant impact on the women who took part, as one TA explained: "Two years ago I wouldn’t have given a speech in front of a thousand people or been interviewed on camera. This has changed us. This has changed us from just mums and wives and daughters. We have a cause and people are talking about the Durham TAs all over the country."
One of the TAs Lisa Turnbull wrote a number of poems about her experience including these,
I'm not a commodity than you can share around
I'm not like a dog at the Table...
waiting around for scraps of jobs you have found
I’m not being made to feel I’m not able
I'm not here to be called upon when and if you see fit
I’ve always pulled my weight
I’ve always done my bit
I’m not a bookable resource
I’m a professional
I’m a woman
I’ll always stand up for others
To fight what's evidently wrong
Whilst life may seem like a big black hole
With passion in meagre supply
None of us have all the answers
But together at least we can try!!
A lion steps forth with a powerful stride
A lion stands firm loyal to its pride
A lion shows bravery when faced with a test
A lion keeps going and rarely takes rest
A lion is powerful
A lion is strong
A lion stands for what's right and not wrong
A lion is honest
A lion is true
A lion’s unique
That lion is you
A blog post written by volunteer Emily Brooks on her research looking at women's activism in West Yorkshire...
"Tea and cake round at mine?" This is the first question I ask my friends when we are arranging to meet up, so it's not something I would associate with resistance. However, during my research for the project, I discovered some very interesting, non-typical spaces for protest - women’s homes, specifically living rooms.
When I think of protest, I think of marching, banners and parades. But there are cases of women meeting in each other’s homes to discuss their grievances. An intimate and private space which highlights the courage that these women have in opening their homes up to other women who were, in the beginning, strangers.
One woman I came across during my research was named Elaine Connell from Hebden Bridge. When she moved to Hebden she advertised for a women’s group in the local newspaper. She ended up having meetings in her own home. But she was not the only one. In Hebden Bridge, in the 1970's, a woman called Annie Fatet held a group at her house at what was then The Bull where, along with the many issues the women had, they would talk about women's health. It was a moment for them, who confessed they didn't have the education, to come together in resistance to the conforming way of living and make a point to look after each and stand up for one another. Other topics of discussion included feminism, talking about understanding the female body and different sexualities as well as redefining women's roles.
These groups, coming together in such an intimate, private space, would move their acts of resistance to public spaces. A Women's Exhibition was held in Hebden Bridge at Pitt Street in the 1970's. As well, there were campaigns at the Adult Education Centre, Pitt Street - a transformation of the private to the public but with the public sphere educational, rather than the expected political space.
The project is looking for an education / engagement consultant to produce a ‘Protest in a Box’ resource kit for use with schools and interested community groups, working collaboratively with schools, groups and the Project team.
The budget is £4000 inclusive of expenses, work needs to be completed by September 2019 and the deadline for applications is Friday 17th May 2019. Please email Claire on firstname.lastname@example.org for more details. We would love to hear your ideas!
Last week was an exciting and busy time for the Remembering Resistance team, as we organised two pop-up events on Thursday and Saturday, and a workshop on Friday. We are so grateful to everyone who took the time to share their inspiring stories with us and are incredibly excited about the next phase of the project.
Thursday saw the team in Lancaster city centre as part of Lancaster University’s Campus in the City event. This brings people from across the university to the city centre to share their work and research. Remembering Resistance set up in a shop along with the Documenting Dissent project. We had a terrific day talking to people about activism, ran some of our activities, and showed our timeline of protest in the North of England over the past 100 years. We also heard some amazing stories from women about their activism.
We were inspired by one woman who stopped to tell us about her lifetime of campaigning. Starting at the age of five, she marched for the National Health Service with her Dad, going on to set up a shelter for victims of domestic violence in Lancaster, and has been an active campaigner for a range of causes ever since. Now 85, she emphasised how important it is to let young people know about how women have fought for change. She left a real impression on us and gave us even more energy to capture and celebrate women’s stories of activism.
On Friday, we held a workshop at Lancaster University with our volunteers to collaboratively explore what we wanted to show in the final project exhibition. Over the past few months, the volunteers and Richardson Institute interns have been busy collecting loads of data on protest events as well as conducting oral histories with women. Together, we looked at this data to get a sense of what stories we might highlight in the exhibition. We also did a fun exercise to design what the exhibition might look like. We came away feeling energised and really positive about what we have collected, what we have yet to do, and the amazing things that women have done in the past century in the North of England.
Finally, the team went to Durham on Saturday to take part in the Women’s Banner Group Hustings. Held in the 113 year-old Durham Miners Hall at Redhills, the event brought people together to celebrate women’s achievements in the North East. It started with a great discussion on the strong history of women’s activism in Durham. The hustings was really enjoyable, as people stepped forward to nominate women for a blue plaque. If successful, this would be only the second blue plaque in the city about a woman! The stories we heard of resilient, independent women were incredibly powerful and so very clearly demonstrated that Durham women are, indeed, fighters!
The week that was gave us much to think about and definitely much to celebrate so thanks again to everyone who took part!
The events programme for Remembering Resistance has started rolling. So far, we have held two fantastic events and had a really enthusiastic response to the work we have done on the project up to now.
On Saturday 2nd March for International Women's Day, we were at the Working Class Movement Library in Salford where project lead, Sarah, led a lively talk and discussion around women in activism over the last century. It was also the first time we trialled our activities to really get people involved in the project, sharing their stories and helping to understand how women's activism and its relation to place has changed over time in the North.
The library was a wonderful place to hold the event, and to engage with such a diverse and engaged audience.
Special mention also has to go the volunteers of WCML who in the run up to the event, and on the day (including limitless supplies of tea and biscuits!) were wonderful and helped deliver a really successful afternoon of discussing and sharing stories of women’s experiences.
On the following Saturday, we had a stall at SUMMAT 2019, in Leeds, a festival of resistance organised by Leeds Tidal. As well as having the chance to take part in some fascinating talks and workshops (and a gorgeous shared lunch!), we also made contact with loads of women keen to take part and spread the word about the project.
Thanks especially to the project volunteers who were great at helping out at both events, engaging with everyone, being massively enthusiastic and generally being awesome!
We’ve now had four of our Citizen Volunteer training days on the Remembering Resistance project, and it’s been quite a whirlwind. The training days began in Lancaster in November with seven volunteers from around Lancashire and Yorkshire coming to hear more about the project, learning how to undertake oral histories effectively and finding out how to search for protest-based material on databases and in archives. In January, we repeated our training day in Lancaster with four, new volunteers from around Cumbria and Lancashire; this was followed by a training day in Leeds with four volunteers from Yorkshire, and another day in Durham with seven volunteers from County Durham, Derbyshire, Greater Manchester, Yorkshire and Liverpool. One word that sums up the collective experience: amazing!
First, a word about the volunteers: the people we have had the pleasure to meet are such an eclectic bunch of women (and two men!) with a whole host of life and protest-based experiences. Their stories of activism and of fighting for causes they believe in, whether locally or abroad, are so varied and so inspiring. We have already learned a lot from what they have done, and have very much valued their input into making training days and beyond incredible.
Second, a word about venues: in Leeds and Durham in particular, we have been met with the most gracious, friendly and accommodating people who have met and easily exceeded our training day needs. Whether it was in providing us with stunning rooms, fantastic and ample food or extra spaces when we needed to spread out, we can’t say enough positive things about being hosted in fabulous community spaces. Where possible, we plan to continue carrying out our project in these smaller venues, as they feel like exactly the kind of places where activism lives and breathes. So if you’re in Leeds, please check out the Chapel FM Arts Centre, and if you happen to visit Durham, please go to Alington House.
Finally, a word about keeping this energy up: from our many conversations with the volunteers, we definitely found that there is an appetite and, indeed, a desire to capture, record and make visible the stories of women’s involvement in protest over the last 100 years in the North of England. Sometimes this can sound daunting, as there is so much ground to cover, novel technologies to learn and new relationships to broker. Meeting the volunteers over the past few months, though, has filled us with complete confidence and joy that, together, we can smash this and co-develop a project that is greater than the sum of its parts. In short, we will make something amazing!
We have had some amazing media coverage recently in the Sheffield Telegraph and in the Sheffield Star and have had some fantastic participants come forward to share their stories as a result. Women with many memories of protests from the 1960s to the present day are all keen to have their voices heard and inspire others to campaign for what they believe in. If you would like to join in, do get in touch - we would love to hear from you!
Happy New Year! We had a great 2018, and we're really looking forward to the year ahead. We've got lots of plans for the project, and can't wait to get started!
One of the things we're most looking forward to is working with like-minded people who share our interest in celebrating and supporting women's involvement in politics and activism. So we're absolutely delighted that we're going to be working the Women's Banner Group. The Group is based in Durham and is led by the terrific Laura and Lynn.
We're hoping to have a joint event up in Durham in the early part of the year - we'll let you know as soon as we have more details. In the meantime, we wanted to share some more information about the Women's Banner Group, and would encourage you to check out their website or Facebook page to learn more.
The Women's Banner group
The Women’s Banner Group was set up by social and political women’s activist Laura Daly in response to the commemoration of 100 years since Suffrage. Laura's goal was to have the achievements of women recognised as an important part of Durham's history and success. Joined by fellow local activist Lynn Gibson, the journey to form the group began.
The Group identified a need for female representation and celebration in the region, and wanted women's role reflected in the Durham Miners’ Gala. The Gala is one of the world’s biggest annual gatherings, held on the second Saturday in July, and is associated with the region’s coal mining heritage. It has now grown into ‘Europe’s’ or ‘one of’ the world’s largest socialist gatherings, comprising not only all of the traditional coal mining banners, but banners and flags from trade unions and socialist societies.
The 2018 Durham Miner's gala
The work to design, create and promote the group brought on board creative quilter Mary Turner and local activist Heather Wood who was heavily influential in forming the Free Cafés of Easington and beyond during the 1984 miners’ strike. With legends like these attached to the project it was sure to be a huge success.
Over a dozen women’s groups from all backgrounds throughout the region became involved to help design a full sized patchwork banner to fly at the 2018 Gala. The project brought together over 60 women with varying passions and ideas, as well as activists from many different causes which the Women’s Banner Group was happy to share and campaign alongside.
Not only did the group become affiliated with the Durham Miner's Association, their banner was blessed at the historical Durham Cathedral service following the Gala; a huge honour which truly celebrated the work these women, and the women who inspired them, had done. The attention the group gained was true testament to how necessary it was for women to have an outlet for their campaigns, a place to find support from other women, and somewhere to celebrate each other.
The success of the group has meant this year’s plans are even bigger. This year, they're hoping to raise enough funds to commission a full miner's sized silk banner to be designed and created by the incredibly talented Durham Bannermakers. The Group has other ambitious projects including erecting a blue plaque in honour of a woman (currently in County Durham the only blue plaques are for men or buildings); completing a book of inspirational women; and are even looking into developing a female statue to represent women’s struggles in the area.
The Group will be working with school children across the County on workshops they have created to encourage creativity, activism, and knowledge of historical struggles, with the hope they will find this empowering.
The Women’s Banner Group and the Remembering Resistance Project are really looking forward to collaborating in 2019. Early in the new year, we're planning to hold a mock hustings event where we'll invite women to “pitch” for their chosen Inspirational Woman to be commemorated on a blue plaque.
We'll let you know more about this as soon as we have the details. In the meantime, here's to a wonderful 2019!