Phase 8: Exhibition Up!

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Well done team!

So, we got there – all the research was collected, written up, designed into exhibition boards and a booklet. Interviews recorded, a mini video made and all photos onto a DVD. So, The Bryant & May Building Story has been unleashed onto the local community. Yesterday was an afternoon to share these achievements and a small free event for the public to engage in the material produced. There was some great feedback and vey valuable conversations with those that came to find out more about the building on their road as well as those that already knew a little and wanted to share their memories. We are now ready to tour the exhibition to Bow School and for it to take part in local community training – exactly what we had hoped for!

Stay tuned for more updates in the new year.

And pls feel free to contact us if you would like this exhibition to be a part of your community event: projects@maximallearning.com

Big thanks to the Heritage Lottery Fund for their support with the project. The project has resulted in many local people taking an interest in their local heritage as well as visiting museums and archive offices for the first time. It brought the local community together and we’ve been able to provide a range of training to volunteers that they can use on other projects or to advance their career and built an effective delivery team that are already asking when the next project will start. 

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Phase 7: Re-record not fade away

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Weren’t the Scotch VHS tapes adverts just great? Well, now that we’ve moved onto digital, same rules still apply when recording anything. Check you have enough batteries, check it’s not too noisy, check you have a plan. All of these applied to us when we recorded our oral histories but we forgot about the dreaded mobile phone interference! One interview had a horrible screeching sound about half way through (when mobile was moved accidentally closer to recorder)…

Anyway, it’s a definite mistake to learn from and luckily we had a great sound engineer who was able to mask some of the screeching and we can still make out some of the interview. And thank goodness for that, as we had some great  memories come through, such a sense of precious history talking to the great and kind women Ann Simmons and Carol Kensit – who worked at The Bryant & May Factory in Bow and shared their experiences with us.

And the main community event is on th 17th December – pls do come. All free and all welcome.

Here’s a little piece on our project in the East London Advertiser.

Phase 6: Booklets sorted

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They are officially on their way to us! Well done everyone involved, it’s always the trickiest part in some ways, as so much checking has to be done. I guess having something real, printed, tangible, is quite rare these days. Above is a snapshot of one of the pages….and hurrah, we used the Bryant & May matchboxes.

This session, we got to listen to the audio monologue of Lizzie – a fictitious character that tells us her feelings the day before the 1888 Match Women Strike.  It was great to think back to the first session when we were free writing our own thoughts on this – many of the comments and writing we discussed have been included in the final piece. This along with some other audio recordings will be included in the DVD….such as an oral history interview with a former Bryant & May employee, Carol Kensit. She was kind enough to speak to us about her experience in the 60’s working at the Clubhouse – a subsidised place on site for workers to relax and that hosted a fair few jazz stars in it’s time too! We’ll be speaking to Anne Simons later this week who worked on the factory floor.

Come to our free community event on Friday 13th December and Tues 17th December  so you can hear them in full and meet the team.

Phase 5: Making it Happen

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We are in logistics mode.

Today was very much about the nuts and bolts. How will the event run, which things do we need to stick to other things, name badges? Yes, the real detail. But of course, all very important so that we get a smooth and enjoyable event at the end of it. It’s been interesting working on a project that has so many volunteers, all available at different times! From a coordinator’s point of view it may not initially seem ideal but in fact, it’s a nice surprise to have very different inputs every time. Also, there are many that can attend one or two sessions and then happy to do some tasks from home. We’re a team that flows in different ways!

Also, marketing. Last week we brainstormed who would like to access the material we produce. This week it’s about dropping flyers to them on the exhibition event, emailing re the learners pack….we even had the local press interested by what we’re doing so who knows, maybe we’ll get a story in the paper

Phase 4 -Thinking about the exhibition

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We were discussing the content of the exhibition and agreed that it would be best that the same material is replicated in the booklet (that will form part of the learners pack going out to schools etc) It was great to compile a first draft of copy that was made up of all the research carried out so far. We identified key areas that still need attention such as the architecture of the building pre Bryant & May using it as their factory as well as more detail on how it became the Bow Quarter today. Also, what, if any, impact did the strike have on the wider political, social landscape?

A huge theme that came out today was the nervousness of us all to definitively provide an account of history that may be incorrect. Particularly, thinking about the MatchWomen Strike – are we portraying the women in the wrong light, were Bryant & May the good guys or the bad guys etc etc? We have definitely taken on a historic moment that has been re-told in so many different ways and is hard to pin down, that’s for sure. But then, history is just that – lots of different versions. What we’re doing with this project is not providing a definitive account of how it happened but instead, offering various views as a starting point and encouraging us all to go further, delve deeper and pop down to their archives and explore for themselves.

Oh and to explain the image on this post….some beautiful Bryant & May matchbox labels arrived in the post today. How oh how shall we use them in the exhibition layout. Mmmmm….

Phase 3 – Digging through the company records

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Another archives experience was in store but this time at Hackney Archives. The collection here on Bryant & May is one of their largest – which we  found a little strange given the company’s main activities were carried out at the Bow Factory which is in the borough of Tower Hamlets. It was explained that an archivist had started the work on the extensive company docs and had been based at Hackney and so that is where it stayed. And oh what a treat!

We sifted through to find MatchGirl Club meeting minutes from 1898, wages records from 1906, illuminating letters and press cuttings that pieced together more and more on our quest to find out what really happened over the years at Bryant & May. Though we did find lots of references to the 1888 strike itself, we were also fascinated to see how the company changed it’s approach to employees after this event and became a desirable place to work.

Hackney Archives is a new centre with great facilities and definitely worth a visit. Again, anyone can visit as long as you’re respectful of the materials and best to have an idea of what you’re looking for in advance – staff are always willing to help.

Phase 2 – Hello Archives

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Aaaah the beauty of archives!

We took a trip to Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives on it’s open day ‘Archives Explored’ – part of the EXPLORE YOUR ARCHIVE campaign. People don’t often realise that you can gain access as a member of the public – just bring ID with you and you’ll have an amazing amount of history at your fingertips. To focus our attention, we all had a quiz prepared with a set of questions aimed to get everyone looking for maps, photos, pamphlets, press cuttings…It was a good exercise in research skills as we soon discovered that you  could be there all week looking through it all so ‘filtering’ was a particularly good skill to have!

We all decided that the audio element of the exhibition will not only be the first person voice of a match girl in 1888, but also recordings of interviews with anyone who worked there, lived there now, historians and even our own opinions on the events that took place there. This would later be created into a DVD and form part of a learning pack.

We also decided that the wording element of the exhibition would be best displayed in a chronological format – the timeline would be easier to digest. Within this, we would look at different areas;

The Architecture of the Factory
Bryant & May as a company
The Workers, The Conditions
Why the Strike – What happened as a result
Today – The Bow Quarter

And also, to try an draw comparisons between working conditions then and now.

But we didn’t have enough of archives – next week we will be at Hackney and this will see the end of our research phase. All subsequent sessions will focus on refining content, marketing event, comprising learning packs.

Lots to do and we wouldn’t have it any other way.