Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Our History: Strength and Unity exhibition

This article was written for the Landworker magazine but in the event was not used. 

If there was a prize for the brightest, most interesting stall at this year's Great Yorkshire Show (GYS) then Unite's would have surely been in top spot. 

The free Our History: Strength and Unity exhibition has been refined since 2015. It is a stunning creation that allows visitors to explore the Luddites, farm workers, miners and suffragettes struggles of the past and relate them to modern campaigns around saving the steel industry and Sports Direct.   

A specially available Unite News 16-page paper packed with historical articles on workers’ struggles was snapped up by many people. 

Little wonder then that visitor numbers to the Unite stall rocketed to 2,314, up by over a thousand on 2015. Schoolchildren and members of the public were accompanied by a combination of volunteer and professional actors in period dress who helped to animate the exhibition stories.

The youngest actor was Darcey Crewe, aged 11, who performed the role of a young Huddersfield ‘baby suffragette’ Dora Thewlis, a mill worker who at aged 16 was imprisoned for trying to storm Parliament to demand Votes for Women. “I like acting and I admire Dora. My school, St Joseph’s Catholic Primary in Castleford, has allowed me to be here for all three days and I really like it. I think the children who we speak to also enjoy the experience.”

Abbey Harland, aged 10, from Grove Road Primary School in Harrogate certainly did so. “The exhibition was very interesting. I particularly liked the talks about women’s votes as I did not know how tough it was for the women involved, many of whom were imprisoned and force fed. It is good that they won the Vote as that has made our lives better today.”

Abbey’s teacher, Miss Kitchingham, was glad she had taken the decision to visit the Unite exhibition with her class of 10/11 year olds. “It was really good and the actors talking to them has meant the children really engaged with the subjects, making it both educational and enjoyable. I’d recommend it to other visiting school groups.” 

All of which was music to Andy Pearson, the who organised the exhibition and engagement with the public at the GYS, where Unite has had a permanent stall and presence going since the 1950s. “It has taken around six months preparation. We have been fortunate  to have been helped by the National Mining Museum, but everyone, the Unite staff and our volunteers of all ages who have assisted have done a great job. I think we have managed to show how unions were important in the past and are vital today.” 

The really good news is that the exhibition can be reassembled in other locations, where it is sure to go down a storm.

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