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Update on working with the history group

After visiting Benwell as part of the Durham conference Alice and I came back with a number of publications from the Benwell History Group. They included a very high quality publication called ‘Made on Coal’. This and a few other publications were given to the history group to look at.

Their inspiration led them to think that something might be done for Hillfields, but that ‘Built on Ribbons’ wasn’t the angle to take. Instead the group felt that tackling the poor reputation Hillfields suffers from would be more suitable. Moreover, one of them said that the Imagine project needs some physical outputs. This intrigued me.

Our concentration has been on supporting organisations in what they need, and tailoring what we need to this, so that increased community capacity located wthin the voluntary group leads to better outputs and outcomes for us. For example, digitizing the history group’s images will help them maintain an archive and develop their group, whilst the inclusion of newly-digitized images in the timeline works for our research purposes; improving the interviewing skill of radio presenters through support from me (as an ex-radio producer) produces competent broadcasters to develop the boardcast community at Hillz FM and records interviews for this research is another.

The ephemerality of internet and voice led the history group to want to create the book. Their own physical archive of leaflets and documents represents an earlier age of Hillfields history, and very little else exists, so perhaps their need to produce something physical is to be understood.

To this end we have contacted Culture Coventry to apply for a grant for the publication. The group will apply, with my support, should Culture Coventry give us encouragement. We will see.

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Setting up a timeline

The aim of this project is to work with community partners and residents to bring together an extraordinary amount of information about Hillfields in Coventry to examine how it has been imagined over time by residents, businesses and various levels of government. From this, new imaginings may take place. There is also a secondary element in which the methodology of this research and the practices that stem from it have an impact in the community by changing practice and building capacity, and that these changes contribute to changes in academic understanding and practice.

Part of our work has been to create a timeline. The timeline can appear in several methods: as text in a technical-looking spreadsheet and as a visual, interactive map. The spreadsheet might be thought of as a base document. It contains all the themes against which paths my be viewed – local policies, national and regional politics, community action, physical development, voluntary organisations, myths, leisure, ethnic population  are a few mentioned so far – and puts them in a chronological order. The interactive online version will not only present these events but also present relevant data such as images, audio and documents, giving residents a chance to work at their own pace on information presented in the timeline.

In conversations with people at a community level involved in this project the timeline may allow them to locate their thinking in the activities of policy makers, community events and major occurrences. From this they will contribute their memories through interviews, photographs or documents. Residents also see the utility of the timeline as a dynamic project. At a recent conference, contributions as to how the timeline might develop ran to several pages, and the debate on myths could certainly have run on long after the event finished.

The timeline in this project will be a legacy website too with the skills to develop it and add to it located in the community, and within the community organisations in Hillfields. Whether there is someone to do this, and whether they, or another, feel the continued value of the timeline, will be a measure of the success of this project.