An immersive museum experience of working-class lives.
MSL’s digital arts and heritage project, Tressell’s Children, is a ground-breaking project inspired by working-class experiences in Hastings.
Over the summer of 2023, the people of Hastings turned detective and delved into the towns’ archives to unearth details of everyday lives.
Workshop participants explored the largely unknown lives of working-class people alongside professional artists and historians. They found new ways of telling these stories and gave old voices new life in the form of writing, graphic and digital art.
Rooted in an oral history project that was conducted in Hastings in the 1980s, drawing links between the stories of life in the interwar period and the earlier work of Robert Tressell (author of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, which was written in Hastings in the early 1900s), the findings formed the basis for creative work that created an immersive digital museum experience.
Participants became history detectives, and made links between present and past. The result shifted the narrative about what constitutes heritage, revealing that it is the real-life stories of ordinary men, women, and children that make up what we call history.
Creation of new works encouraged us and our audiences to realise that the substance of our lives today forms the heritage of tomorrow.
edIn Hastings we worked with those who may be familiar with the name of Robert Tressell from the blue plaques on local buildings, but did not know the importance of his work nationally, or his contribution to the understanding of the lives of working people.
The second half of the 20th century saw a burst of interest in collecting community oral history. Participants will explore transcripts of a 1980s oral history project, now boxed and locked away, to investigate the working lives of local people between the wars whilst also making links to Robert Tressell’s book.
Using his work as a basis for exploration, and then investigating the stories told by the “children” of the next generation which have lain dormant in the local archives for many years, we shone a light on the overlooked stories that form an important part of our local and national heritage.
The initial workshops were led by our research lead, Sarah French. Sarah is a PhD researcher and freelance arts and cultural heritage professional, specialising in photography, museums and collections.
A sister project in Medway started with the stories from recent immigrants and linked these to the waves of previous immigrants and the achievements all have made to the UK.
We explored ‘migration’ as a theme for interrogation with Medway’s historic role as a gateway for waves of people coming to this country in the forefront, from the historic – Huguenots, through Jewish, non-conformist – to the present-day Afghan and Ukrainian immigrants, many of whom passed through the docks to London and elsewhere in the UK. We will linked the present-day live issues to the historic, to find and revealed the lost stories.
In Chatham, we held two Scan the Street! photogrammetry workshops with Electric Medway. We uncovered the migration stories found in the buildings of Chatham Intra and Chatham Luton. We exhibited the creative work made in the workshops at Electric Medway in October 2023.
This project is funded by The National Lottery Heritage Fund.
Thanks to money raised by #NationalLottery players.
Additional support from Localgiving’s Magic Little Grants Fund (supported by players of the People’s Postcode Lottery).
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