The Iron Duke Returns
In the autumn of 2015, I was involved in the preparation of a funding bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund to restore and return to Bradford on Avon a piece of equipment called the Iron Duke, a calendaring machine which had been used to roll out sheets of rubber in the Avon Rubber Factory from 1849 to 1970. I devised four community engagement projects, taking in film, music, poetry and journalism, to support the bid, and, when we successfully received the £55,000 grant, plus £18,000 from the Arts Council PRISM fund, set to work as one of two community engagement co-ordinators, to deliver the projects.
The first of the Iron Duke-related community engagement projects to begin in 2016, and which I project managed, involved the Bath-based performance poet Hannah Teasdale, who worked with young people, in particular those at Bradford on Avon Youth Group, to explore the health issues involved with working at the former Avon Rubber factory (especially those associated with the notorious 'Black Hole' mixing department), and any contemporary issues faced by young people living in a post-Avon town. The starting point for this project was the poem The Grim Reaper's Snuff by Bradford on Avon's Merv Grist.
Hannah comments that three of the girls who produced their own pieces of writing about their experience of life in Bradford on Avon had never written voluntarily before, and the workshops became very person-centred and therapeutic for them.
The resulting work was showcased at a Bradford on Avon Arts Festival event on Saturday September 10th 2016 - some written and performed by the young people, and some written by Hannah and performed by the young people. Some of the performances from that evening, plus other work by the young people, were filmed and edited by James McQuade, to create the film Our Black Hole.
A second project aimed to recreate the essence of the Avon Rubber in-house newspaper, Avon News, with the help of students from Bradford on Avon's St Laurence School. I project managed this, and, subsequently, worked with the young people to deliver the final publication.
The Wiltshire Times agreed to run the 'newspaper' as a supplement within its September 23rd 2016 edition, with the concept that the students would write the news and features for it, about the factory, its workers and the Iron Duke. The supplement would be given out at the official day of celebrations to mark the return of the Iron Duke on September 24th, as well as being more widely distributed amongst Wiltshire Times readers that week.
A group of 14 students were subsequently given basic training in journalism by Ruth Butler, Heritage Education Officer at the Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre, and then interviewed many of the people involved in the wider project. Eight of the students, who were in Years 8-10 at the outset of the project, went on to interview key project partners, write, and then edit, their stories during their summer holidays, under my guidance. I worked closely with the school and the newspaper to guide this project, and the supplement, to its successful conclusion.
Photographs for the supplement included some of those sourced from the archives at the Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre by Andrew and Margaret Shipley.