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All My Worldly Possessions: The Guernsey evacuee experience

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Overview

Who: An academic from the University of Manchester in partnership with Bury Archives Service

What: An intergenerational open day at Ramsbottom Library about Guernsey evacuees in Bury, bringing together real life experiences with academic research on the subject

Why: To forge partnerships, develop skills and local learning opportunities overcoming perceptions of the inaccessibility of academic research

Where: Ramsbottom Heritage Gallery at Ramsbottom Library, where the event attracted over 100 visitors aged 3-90 years, including visitors from Guernsey.

When: Held in October 2010

Project description

The original project plan was to hold an open day with the researcher showing members of the public evacuee objects. It was quickly realised that a bigger draw was needed for the public to engage. Instead of producing printed resources, a documentary film giving personal accounts of World War Two evacuation from Guernsey to Bury was made. This offered a means for the researcher to develop new skills and partnerships, make the material highly accessible, and leave options open to produce written resources at a later date.

A public appeal was first carried out in the local press, on BBC radio and on Guernsey to find new contacts specific to the Bury area that linked with academic research. The university researcher contacted everyone who came forward, finding out what piece of the evacuee story they could add to. From the 60 respondents a clear connection to the Bury archives was discovered. The researcher conducted interviews with a small number of respondents which were filmed by professional film maker, Diane Rickerby. 

On 28th October 2010, the film was launched at the ‘All My Worldly Possessions’ open day at Ramsbottom library. The event was advertised through the local press and with flyers. 

At the event the academic spoke about her university research and the contents of Bury Archives, presented in ten minute ‘evacuee suitcase sessions’. She also encouraged people to visit their local archives. People could also share their wartime experiences. Public talks were given by evacuees, and members of the public had an opportunity to share their wartime experiences privately with the researcher.

Over 100 people attended the event including a school group. There were five screenings of the film during the open day.

Gillian (researcher), Sheila (evacuee) and suitcase

Gillian (researcher), Sheila (evacuee) and suitcase 

Purpose 

The project aimed to:

  • capture the stories of local evacuees from Guernsey and Bury in an accessible way
  • engage with the public through an intergenerational event
  • create an opportunity for the researcher to train museum visitor assistants on the evacuee experience based on her research
  • challenge public perceptions about public archives and university researchers, making them more accessible.

Results and outcomes

  • The project produced a 30 minute documentary film available as a DVD with an eight-page booklet insert.  It is on loan at Bury libraries, or can be purchased for £15.00, including post and packaging (within the UK). It is also being used in Bury Museum and at Stockport as a staff training resource
  • There was a two month display at Ramsbottom Library
  • The researcher is developing the suitcase experience into a workshop. 
  • A website is under production.
  • An article on the project featured in the ‘Our Voice’ Council Magazine, distributed to 60,000 households.  There was also publicity on the community archive website, Manchester University website, and on BBC Guernsey
  • Learning from the project was communicated to other academics at Manchester University, encouraging them to participate in similar schemes. The documentary was screened on campus
"I never considered that public engagement work was something universities undertook.  My only experience with universities had been providing work placements for undergraduate and postgraduate students, never about bringing research out of an academic environment. I suppose I had never really considered how academic research could be translated for a public audience before." Joanne Fitton, Archivist

What worked well

The project strengthened the relationship between the researcher and Bury Archives Service. The researcher’s knowledge and academic work brought organisations and people together in new learning opportunities and working relationships.   

The staff of Bury Museum and Archives now recognise the importance of a local historical event, the Channel Island evacuee experience, something that they can share with visitors for years to come.  The museum had run a small display on the Channel Island evacuees in the summer of 2010 but its impact was not as far reaching as this project.

The project also brought the community together. People who had not seen each other for 70 years came together and spoke of sensitive issues they had hidden from their families and themselves for a long time. 

The attendance of a school group at the event proved to the library service that classes will visit the space. Comments from the open day showed the positive impact the project had on local people: 

"Very interesting as my mother and her siblings were evacuees. They were originally in Cheshire and then Bury. My grandfather back in Guernsey ‘ran the gauntlet’ by listening to a crystal radio with Germans in the house." Event participant.

"Thank you for a wonderful afternoon; the children enjoyed it, especially the case and speaking to the evacuees." Teacher

"I just couldn’t believe what people packed in that tiny suitcase. It was tiny! Seeing that was my best bit." School child 

Learning and skills development

The project provided opportunities for sustainable two-way learning for the researcher and Bury Archive, for example:

  • researcher skills development – film making, interviewing, presentation and communication skills
  • selecting aspects of research and archive content that would engage with the community
  • finding new ways of sharing a heritage project with the community

There were other benefits from the project:

  • New community links have been created
  • A new audience is now interested in academic work and the local archives
  • The existing relationship between researcher, the university and Bury Archives developed and strengthened
  • The researcher developed links with other professionals
  • The project has expanded the range of  schools workshops that can be offered and has lead to the development of a Heritage Lottery Fund bid.

John Helyer (evacuee) with photo of himself taken in 1945 on a trip from Bury to Guernsey to see his family

John Helyer (evacuee) and 1945 photo of himself taken in Bury, going to visit family in Guernsey

What didn't work well

The project did evolve over time. It was not until a month into the project, on a very tight time frame, that the objective of making a film was clearly established. 

Resources required

  • Researcher time – Gill had four days to work on the project
  • Funding – to produce the film
  • Public space – The Fusilier Museum (Lancashire) provided a space for filming the documentary. The Ramsbottom Heritage Gallery provided space for the event

Top tips

1. Have plenty of time.

2. If your objectives are clear at the start, the outputs can evolve over time

3. Research the contributors for a dissemination event and make sure that their ‘story’ is relevant to your ‘story’

Contact

Name: Joanne Fitton, Archivist

Name of organisation: Bury Museum and Archives, Moss Street, Bury BL9 0DR

Email: j.c.fitton@leeds.ac.uk

Website:  www.bury.gov.uk/archives