By Jacqueline Grima
This week, staff from Manchester Metropolitan University’s Institute of Humanities and Social Science Research gathered with research students and members of the Greater Manchester community at the People’s History Museum. The event celebrated the end of the department’s ‘Creating Our Future Histories’ project and concluded the ‘Future Histories’ strand of the university’s 2015 Humanities in Public festival.
The evening began with a drinks reception and entertainment from dance group STRIDE before attendees had the opportunity to talk to those involved in the ‘Creating Our Future Histories’ project. The project, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and led by Professors Berthold Schoene, Associate Dean for Research and Knowledge Exchange, Faculty of Humanities, Languages and Social Science and Professor Melanie Tebbut, saw research students come together with various community groups from the Manchester area in order to create links between academia and the local community. Groups involved included the Ancoats Dispensary Trust, whose aim it is to prevent the demolition of the Grade II listed Ancoats Dispensary on Mill Street, Dance Manchester and the Greater Manchester Centre for Voluntary Organisation.
Asked about how the collaboration has benefited her group, Linda Carver from the Ancoats Dispensary Trust told Humanity Hallows, “This collaboration with MMU has allowed us to spread the word and raise the profile of the group in a way that we couldn’t have done on our own. We want the dispensary to become a working building again and, within this building, is going to be a place where all things creative happen which will enrich and improve the lives of many people in the community. But this project is about more than just a building. It is not so much about preserving the past as moving forward into the future and creating what we like to think of as the ‘beating heart’ of Ancoats.”
Research student, Ian Gwinn, who collaborated with the Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People, added, “I decided to become involved with this project as it connects you with people who make you realise that research is about more than simply publishing an article. This shows how your work can have a much greater impact.” Other groups involved in the project were the Greater Manchester Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, My Community UK and the Millennium Powerhouse, a purpose-built youth centre in Moss Side who benefitted from support and training in building their own website which has significantly increased their internet presence.
The evening continued with a short film about the project followed by a talk from Dr Andrew Flinn, Reader in Archival Studies and Oral History at University College London and former archivist at the People’s History Museum. Dr Flinn told the audience about how a shift in focus in the study of history after World War II has led to the process of archiving becoming more community-based. Historians’ interest in looking at history through individual stories regardless of gender or class has subsequently led to what Dr Flinn refers to as, “a more useable past that is not steeped in notions of academic scholarship.” Museums and libraries, therefore, can now become interactive resource centres as opposed to, “mausoleums of holy relics.” Asked for his thoughts about the benefits of projects like this, Dr Flinn told Humanity Hallows, “This is a really important and interesting initiative to become involved in, not only for the academics and researchers but also for the community groups. Not only is it a productive relationship for all those involved but also projects like this allow academia to learn more about history-making and heritage and what it means in the community. For the community groups the benefits vary. It gives them access to skills and expertise that will help them develop their projects and it also opens up resources to them that sometimes might be difficult to reach.”
The Ancoats Dispensary Trust’s vision of the future of their building will be celebrated at an exhibition on 8th June at Halle, St Peter’s, Blossom Street. More information can be found here. More information about the ‘Creating Our Future Histories’ project and all the groups involved can be found here.
The conclusion of MMU’s Humanities in Public festival will be celebrated on 1st June in the Geoffrey Manton atrium with Vice Chancellor, Professor Malcolm Press, invited as guest of honour. The event will commence at 5pm with a drinks reception followed by Professor Melanie Tebbut inaugural lecture entitled ‘Listening to Youth?’
Jacqueline Grima is currently studying for an MA in Creative Writing. When not writing she loves listening to music, especially Green Day, Foo Fighters and Gary Numan. Follow her on Twitter @GrimaJgrima