The following posting is my presentation for the Connecting Communities International Conference: Participatory Action and Social Action Research held on the 10th and 11th November at Resource for London. Thanks to the the Participatory Arts and Social Action Research (PASAR) team for organising the conference, further details of which can be found here: www.gre.ac.uk/ach/events/connectingcommunities/home
Salvaging Memories and (Re-) Connecting with Communities: Reflections on Tate Lives as a Participatory Oral History Project in North Woolwich and Silvertown.
The focus of this paper will be to draw upon on a recently undertaken civic engagement project focusing on the community history of the now derelict Tate Institute, the former sports and social club built for the workers of the Tate and Lyle sugar refinery in Silvertown, East London. Entitled “Tate Lives: Salvaging the Oral History of the Tate Institute,” the project was funded from the University of East London’s internal civic engagement fund and was established in collaboration with community partners from the inception of the project.
Participatory Exhibition Engagement – Video
North Woolwich and Silvertown
North Woolwich and Silvertown are located south of the Royal Albert Docks and London City Airport and the Tate and Lyle Sugar Refinery is clearly visible from our UEL Docklands Campus. This area of East London has experienced a mixed cultural history over the past century. Issues of decline, regeneration and immigration combined with the policies and interventions of local government in the region have subsequently contributed to growing community isolation and a loss of community spirit, contributing to a decline of sense of community and neighbourhood in these areas.
Decline of the tight knit original island community. It became known as a “dumping ground” during the social housing policy from the 1990’s. During this time there has been 76 plans for the regeneration of the Royal Docks over a 40 year period until the present.
This paper will argue that our participatory approach of the Tate Lives project, developed by incorporating a bottom up oral history methodology, has enabled positive community engagement and interaction to help facilitate a community (re-) connection with their collective memory of both the Tate Institute and more broadly a shared sense of history and community within the local area. Through our work we created a space for the local community who felt a sense of ownership and engagement with the project as the project was intended to give a voice back to the community and to genuinely document their own narratives, testimonies and memories to which they felt have been overlooked for a long time.
Through our work we created a space for the local community who felt a sense of ownership and engagement with the project as the project was intended to give a voice back to the community and to genuinely document their own narratives, testimonies and memories to which they felt have been overlooked for a long time. We therefore determined to develop a multi-layered project focusing on honouring the loss and sourcing the experience of the rich life of the original community and inspiring and educating the newer residents of all ages about the land they live.
This paper will therefore reflect upon the positive experiences of working with a participatory oral history project that enabled incorporation of art and travel for (re)connecting communities at a time of isolation and separation. I will conclude by placing this project in the wider policies associated with civic engagement, drawing on current and previous projects developed around the Refugee Council Archive, at UEL
Why the Tate Institute?
The Tate Institute was established by Sir Henry Tate in 1887 as a secular social venue for Silvertown and in particular the for workers at his sugar factory at a cost of £5,000, with a subsequent donation of £1,500 to renovate the institute in 1904, followed by a further £1,200 to endow it two years later. The Institute included an 800-seat hall, billiard room, reading room and nine bathrooms. It soon became an important meeting venue for the local community hosting lectures, popular musical entertainments, celebrations and even political meetings. The Institute also had sports teams that played at the Tate and Lyle sports ground.
In 1933 the Tate Institute closed and from 1938-61 housed the Silvertown library. It then became a community-based social club with a bar, stage and dance floor and the billiard room was put back into use upstairs. In 2002 the Tate Institute building was sold to the London Borough of Newham and for some years has been unused.
In 2016 the Institute was occupied by the Craftory Workshop, a community arts-based project. With the assistance of sympathetic local councilors, Craftory are working to bring life back into the abandoned Tate Institute and transform it into an arts and craft centre for the local community. Craftory have the aim of “bringing back life into the abandoned Tate Institute and transform it in a new free Venue for the Community.”
Migration Methods and Context
Given our panel is focusing on migration methodologies, we employed a bottom up oral methodology developed during an earlier civic engagement bid focusing on collecting life history narratives from refugees and asylum seekers, leading to the creation of the Living Refugee Archive – www.livingrefugeearchive.org
North Woolwich and Silvertown have experienced a massive shift of identity over the last half a century with the decline of the Docks; stagnation and now attempts at regeneration. Migration into the area has led to differing perspectives on diversity, inclusion, and the nature of belonging and heritage. Migration into the area has led to differing perspectives on diversity, inclusion, integration and the nature of belonging and heritage. This relates well to our work with the Refugee Council Archive at UEL which has focused on going beyond conventional approaches to challenge negative discourses and to document the multi-layered narratives of identity, community and belonging. Our national and international collaborative work with the Refugee Council Archive is beyond the scope of this paper but I would be happy to discuss this further over lunch with anyone who may be interested.
Through this project we wanted to focus on the context on the sense of social value and fabric associated with North Woolwich and Silvertown in the past, collected from the surviving elders. By incorporating community cohesion and the co-production of memory within the neighbourhoods whilst providing concrete opportunities for UEL students to focus on research-led activities.
Tate Lives Project
The core idea for our “Tate Lives: Salvaging the Oral History of the Tate Institute” project came because of a brainstorming session we held one November evening in 2016 shortly after the latest UEL Civic Engagement Fund call for submissions. The project developed out of local concern for neglect in the area and growing anonymity about the area and its story.
Dr. Toby Butler from the UEL History department saw the opportunity to bring together the local neighbourhoods via a civic engagement project which was brainstormed over a single evening in the Archive harnessing resources and potentials which were ready to sail and be told. One of the community groups represented was the Craftory Workshop, an independent arts and crafts based organisation who had recently squatted at the now derelict Tate Institute building in the hope of being able to convert it into a community-based arts centre. In discussion with the Craftory and colleagues from the Royal Docks Community Voice; the North Woolwich and Silvertown Neighbourhood Forum, the idea of the project was born.
The project looked to ensure community stakeholder engagement from the initial inception of the project through to the creation and showcasing of the final exhibition. One of the community groups represented was the Craftory Workshop, an independent arts and crafts based organisation who had recently squatted at the now derelict Tate Institute building in the hope of being able to convert it into a community-based arts centre. In discussion with the Craftory and colleagues from the Royal Docks Community Voice forum; and the newly resurrected Ferry Festival in North Woolwich, the idea of the project was born.
This project employed a bottom-up rescue/salvage archaeology approach to documenting and recording the history of The Tate Institute with a special emphasis on the build environment of the Institute and its cultural and community impact. This project will also aim to take on board local concerns about “a dearth of social spaces” within North Woolwich and Silvertown which highlights the potential benefits of a community-focused approach to this project to try and develop a community spirit in the area. The Tate Institute has played a very important role in the social history of the area and this project if successful will enable its lasting legacy to be documented and recorded.
Tate Live Project Achievements
Our Tate Lives project outputs included:
A travelling exhibition on the history of the Tate Institute; the North Woolwich Ferry Festival; Lost Local Pubs and Community History. The exhibition has been on tour at two public events in July 2017 followed by a stay at the local Royal British Legion in Silvertown and has been in North Woolwich Public Library as part of the Newham Heritage Week.
- The creation of a “Tate Lives” video documentary recording the project to be made available on Youtube.
- The collection of several filmed oral history recordings documenting the local community history. These recordings will be documented and preserved within the UEL Archives and will be transcribed and made available in due course.
- The creation of a “Tate Lives” archive to be preserved within the UEL Archives, incorporating outputs from the project including Tate and Lyle memorabilia; books; photographs; digital research resources; and exhibition materials.
- An active community page on Facebook providing the opportunity for continued community interaction and the sharing of memories and local history on both the Tate Institute and the local community. Tate Lives Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/TateLives/)
Importance of Community Partnership for Engaging Participatory Oral History
One of the positive aspects of this project has been the degree of grassroots engagement. From the start, we wanted the project to be community focused and to be led and developed by the local residents as far as possible. We were committed to a bottom-up methodology to help ensure community stakeholder engagement throughout the lifecycle of the project. Our success in engaging with the communities within North Woolwich and Silvertown relied heavily on the involvement of practitioners from local community organisations including the Royal Docks Community Voice; the Craftory Workshop.
The success of our Tate Lives project in terms of engagement with community partners and the positive way in which the final exhibitions were received when on display and the ongoing engagement with the Tate Lives Facebook site indicates a continued definite potential for this project to impact in a positive and engaging way.
The Tate Lives Exhibition
One of the core outputs of this project was the creation of community-focused exhibition which would initially be showcased over 1-2 community event days to be held in Silvertown and North Woolwich during the summer of 2017. Our aim was to bring the local residents of these two areas together and to both learn about and share the history of the Institute as well as looking at the wider historical legacy and leisure activities of the area. Exhibition panels included the early history and development of North Woolwich and Silvertown; grand designs and leisure activities including the Ferry Festival and lost pubs and clubs.
Slide: Mapping Memories
“Neighbourhoods are made up of many communities with precious memories in locals’ hearts and minds. Spaces and places for residents to meet are often the glue that holds neighbourhoods together, bringing a sense of belonging and support. What is valued are places open in the evenings and weekends to relax, socialise and build local relationships in an organic way.
What Next – Tate Two?
We have received confirmation in the last week that we have secured UEL civic engagement funding for the 2017-18 academic year to do a follow-up project to Tate Lives. Entitled, “Living Community Archives: Participatory Community Heritage in North Woolwich and Silvertown” or Tate Two for short, this will be a collaborative community-based project building upon previous the work already undertaken. Tate Two will be inter-disciplinary project enabling the cross-pollination of ideas across departments and communities facilitating and enabling innovate new approaches to engaging with local communities and respecting their memories and heritage. It will provide further opportunities for both students and locals in exploring co-production and empowerment. It will also engage with local communities and organisations through the implementation of school visits and community workshops and the development of a community-focused website and the mapping of resources via the Layers of London website.
Our focus will be on following up on existing oral history interview leads; facilitating access to the archive of Tate and Lyle which we were unable to do during the original project(!); intersecting with community events going on next year and developing community workshops and producing additional material and generally building on the foundations of what we have done already.
Tate Two Project Aims
This project will be inter-disciplinary enabling the cross-pollination of ideas across departments and communities facilitating and enabling innovate new approaches to engaging with local communities and respecting their memories and heritage. It will further engage with local communities and organisations through the implementation of school visits and community workshops and the development of a community-focused website and the mapping of resources via the Layers of London website.
The intended benefits of this project will include:
- The creation of a Tate Lives website and beginning the process of developing and creating of a North Woolwich and Silvertown Community Living Archive.
- Integration of materials into the Layers of London mapping project (alpha.layersoflondon.org) funded through the Institute of Historical Research and partners. This will be a platform on which good student and UEL research projects will be shared. (One of the aims of the Layers of London project is to help create a bridge between the academic and non-academic worlds in terms of history and geography).
- Undertaking of trips to several local schools in the area showcasing extracts from our work and encouraging school children to participate and engage with the local history of their area.
- Increased development and awareness of UEL Archive collections and facilitating community access to resources.
- Sustainable exhibition of student contributions to the project at the UEL Docklands Archive.
- Undertaking community focused workshops and intersecting with community-led events during 2018 including the Arts and Culture Festival’ Newham Heritage Week; Newham Trackside Wall, etc.
- Student writing of articles for publication in local history magazines and articles for the press.
- Student presentations at relevant academic conferences over the course of the funded project.
Civic Engagement at UEL
For the past several years, the University of East London has been focusing on developing its remit within the field of civic engagement and community outreach. In 2015, UEL launched its Civic Engagement Fund to support the funding of projects with a strong community focus whilst encouraging student participation and volunteering opportunities. To date we have been successful in seven civic engagement funded projects relating refugee and migration issues in London, based around the archives of the Refugee Council for which I am the Archivist. Several of these projects I will explore later in this presentation as I want to use this presentation to focus on the participatory work we have undertaken as part of our Tate Lives project.
Further details of the range and scope of projects that have been funded as part of the UEL civic engagement scheme can be found on the UEL website at: https://www.uel.ac.uk/connect/civic-engagement
Slide: UEL Archives
Our current archival collections include:
- The Refugee Council Archive
- The British Olympic Association Archive and Library.
- The East London People’s Archive of oral history recordings collected by Eastside Community Heritage.
- The Hackney Empire Theatre Archive
- University of East London Institutional and Civic Engagement Archive
Archive-based Civic Engagement Projects
The UEL Archives, and in particular, the Refugee Council Archive, has been involved in a number of UEL funded civic engagement projects since their inception in 2015. To date, these have included:
“Supporting Refugees into Higher Education: A Research Hub for London”: A project designed to create an online resource hub of higher education resources for refugees and asylum seekers in the UK. This formed part of our wider Erasmus+ funded OLIve (Online Learning Initiative) course. Link: https://www.uel.ac.uk/schools/social-sciences/olive
“Democratic Access or Privileged Exclusion: Civic Engagement through the Preservation and Access to Refugee Archives.” To engage with local communities to establish a Living Refugee Archive and to promote and enable accessibility and engagement through the collection of oral histories. Link: http://www.livingrefugeearchive.org/
Refugee Mental Health and Wellbeing Portal: A project to develop an online resource portal specifically for Refugees, Asylum Seekers and Health and Social Care Professionals. Link: https://www.uel.ac.uk/schools/psychology/research/refugee-mental-health-and-wellbeing-portal
“Performing the Archive: Living Narratives and the Politics of Performance.” Working with undergraduate theatre studies students to create performance theatre based upon narratives discovered in the Archive.
To conclude this presentation, I have a second short video to show taken at the Tate Institute itself. Given its derelict status, it is not currently open to the public but thanks to the Craftory, we were able to gain access in order to create this short film documenting the exterior and interior of the building.
However, before showing the video, I would like to sum up by saying that in terms of a conclusion, the Tate Lives project was a success due to it being a resident-directed participatory heritage project. Projects of this kind can often fall short due to the failure to engage with the multiplicity of communities situated within a particular neighbourhood. Tate Lives was able to succeed through the bravery of engaging in places and spaces that are unknown and where you are a stranger. Taking the comfortable option not to look beyond known communities can be a genuine barrier to full participatory engagement.
However, by reaching out beyond your comfort zone as an academic, researcher or archivist to cast a wider net and to be as inclusive as possible can add wide-reaching value of undertaking projects beyond the confines of the academy. To continue to build upon this week, we must continue to look beyond the comfortable – to go beyond the community centre – parks and post office queues! A serendipity which encourages the Magic to happen!
Our future work will not just be a continuation of the same project, Tate Two will focus on issues around digital inclusion (and by default, digital exclusion), especially in relation to the older communities’ resident in North Woolwich and Silvertown, and for some who may feel excluded from new forms of digital communication, to explore new ways of bringing them together. A sense of community belonging is intertwined with notions of history and heritage and how local communities can change over time. Tate Two will aim to focus on documenting these memories and engage inter-generationally with local residents as a means of encouraging engagement, integration and interaction.
Tate Institute Video