Film premieres, poetry and the opportunity to listen to past stories about St Helens from local residents dating back decades will feature as part of a festival to celebrate the wonderful, diverse people of the borough.
Through a week of events taking place in libraries and other venues, St Helens Oral History Festival will bring a large collection of historic voice recordings from more than 35 years ago back to life.
The latest in a series of projects to help St Helens Archive Service develop its collection to preserve local memories, St Helens Oral History Festival has been made possible through the National Lottery Heritage Fund after being awarded more than £86,000 in 2020.
St Helens Arts Service has commissioned artists to create new oral history-based documentaries. Our Generation by Ben Hodge will share the experiences of LGBTQ+ people from different generations – while WA9 by Cameron Jones will highlight the experiences of families living on an urban housing estate in the borough.
The festival will also include the premiere of Charlotte Bill’s film Coal and Glass in the historic and atmospheric Tank House building at the World of Glass. The film features the lesser-told stories of women who worked as pit-brow lasses and at Pilkington Glass as teenagers during the 1930s, combining recordings from 1985 with archive footage and re-enactments of those stories by present-day young actors.
Meanwhile, filmmaker and photographer Kevin Crooks has recorded 40 new oral history interviews with people from across St Helens, which can be accessed as part of a pop-up archive that will tour selected St Helens libraries during the festival – as well as being accessible through the St Helens Community Archive.
In addition to these new stories of St Helens, you’ll be given access to recordings made on cassette back in 1985, which have been recently digitised – a fabulous opportunity to see how lives have evolved over the past 47 years.
To increase the representation of people with disabilities and additional needs within the archives, local group BuzzHub have been interviewing residents of Reeve Court Retirement Village and working with children at Eaves Primary School as part of the community engagement programme.
Audio-visual events will also feature across the week, accompanied by talks with the artists and interviewees; a training course and poetry evening – finished with a special event at Lucem House Community Cinema Plus+ to thank National Lottery players for their contribution.
Councillor Anthony Burns, St Helens Borough Council’s Cabinet Member for Wellbeing, Culture and Heritage, said: “This is the first time in more than 35 years that a large number of oral histories have been recorded in the borough, preserving the precious stories that each of us carry about life and how we live it.
“What make projects like this stand out from others is that oral histories record voices and emotions that aren’t captured by the documents and photographs that usually fill our archives. This has led to special, heart touching moments such as residents hearing voice recording of relatives they didn’t have the chance of meeting in life – so if we’re able to make memories like this again, then it will be worthwhile.
“It’s great to see so many different individuals and groups involved in putting this collection together which is down to National Lottery players, so it would be wonderful to have the public turn out to support the St Helens Oral History Festival which is a celebration of the great people that make our borough the place it is – and a nod to our proud history and heritage.”
St Helens Oral History Festival will take place between 4-9 July 2022.
For full event details and to book free tickets, visit: https://www.sthelens.gov.uk/article/4336/What-s-on