City Activist Walk, September 2013-July 2014

This project contained a number of strands, including educational workshops, oral history training sessions and the collection of oral history testimonies. The interviews collected through this project contributed to the creation of a City Activist Walk around Sheffield in June and July 2014.

  1. Our opening learning workshop introduced people from a variety of backgrounds to the history of Sheffield’s radicalism. Working alongside the Workers’ Educational Association (with generous assistance from Jol Miskin, Shirley Allen-Jackson and Tony Harrison), the project developed a day centred on enhancing people’s understanding of Sheffield’s activist past and its present. Many participants were or are activists, and therefore the event brought together expertise and experiences that helped enrich how people engaged with the project.
  2. The oral history workshops introduced the skills and techniques of oral history interviewing to 16 people who had no prior (or very limited) experiences in collecting interviews. We created a pool of volunteers who gained experiences in interviewing activists, thereby enhancing their understanding of Sheffield’s activist history, and simultaneously contributing to the broader aims of the project: the collection of activists’ stories. The subsequent interview sessions ensured the project reached a wide range of people from different socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds.
  3. The project opened up spaces and opportunities for activists to reflect upon their lives. Alongside connecting people (interviewers and interviewees) and drawing them into the project, the interview process offered the opportunity for activists to reflect upon their experiences, often for the first time. Interviewers and interviewees developed new relationships, new spaces for understanding Sheffield’s activism and helped contribute to the preservation of its history. The depth of reflection displayed by the interviewees was not wholly anticipated. Of course, it might be expected that the process of interviewing might offer this opportunity, but the level of insight and richness of the stories suggests that project had impacts beyond our initial aims. The interviewers must be commended for conducting interviews with insight, curiosity and great sensitivity to elicit the critical reflections people felt able and comfortable to discuss.
  4. In collaboration with River Wolton and drawing upon the interviews we collected, a rich narrative was developed that mapped on to the geography of Sheffield city centre’s radical past. Two performers (Jenny Derbyshire and David Chafer [@dc_actor]) and a narrator (Barbara Jackson) introduced audience members to new parts of the city, and to the many stories of activism that it contains. Anecdotal reflections from audience members suggest the walk was informative and, for some, an emotional experience.
  5. All interviews that were recorded by our volunteers were donated to Sheffield Archives. Second, a short film was produced of the City Walk. All the material produced by River Wolton and Gary Rivett relating to the production of the City Walk will also be donated to Sheffield Archives. This includes transcripts of several interviews, production notes, and unedited and final scripts.