Record­ing work­ing life in Nor­folk

Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine - - CONTENTS -

Long ago I lived in Nor­folk, fell in love with the county and made good friends. It was there­fore a de­light to en­counter the WISE Ar­chive, an oral-his­tory project that has pub­lished dozens of in­ter­views with Nor­folk peo­ple on­line. The web­site in­cludes tran­scripts and some au­dio clips that, project vol­un­teers note, “demon­strate the en­ergy and en­thu­si­asm with which work­ing-life sto­ries are told and af­ford op­por­tu­ni­ties to en­joy the rich Nor­folk ac­cent”.

I had a happy time read­ing and lis­ten­ing to the sto­ries on the web­site. They’re packed with hu­man in­ter­est. Some are en­ter­tain­ing, oth­ers deeply mov­ing as they re­call a van­ished world of farm horses, cider-mak­ing, steam en­gines and a coun­try­side filled with wildflowers.

The web­site be­gan in 2005, when Pauline We­in­stein and her daugh­ter had the idea of pre­serv­ing mem­o­ries of work­ing life. Peo­ple orig­i­nally posted their own sto­ries, but con­trib­u­tors pre­ferred to be in­ter­viewed so vol­un­teers were re­cruited to record and tran­scribe their rec­ol­lec­tions. The group also pub­lishes books of col­lected sto­ries. The first was Work­ing in the Health Ser­vices 1946–2003 (2014) and the lat­est is Col­man’s of Nor­wich: Sto­ries of For­mer Em­ploy­ees 1935– 1995 (2016), which now has added poignancy with the re­cent news that Col­man’s mus­tard fac­tory will close in 2019, af­ter 160 years as a cen­tre­piece of life in Nor­wich.

Sto­ries are up­loaded to the ar­chive on a reg­u­lar ba­sis, and new projects, some of which have re­ceived money from the Her­itage Lot­tery Fund, are added on com­ple­tion. The range is very wide – all as­pects of life and work in the county are of in­ter­est. For ex­am­ple one of the cur­rent themes is ‘Liv­ing and Work­ing in the Marshes’, which is part of the Wa­ter, Mills & Marshes project co-or­di­nated by the Broads Land­scape Part­ner­ship Scheme. The group is look­ing for con­trib­u­tors who grew up or worked in or around the marshes of Nor­folk, in­clud­ing the Broads and rivers. If you live in Nor­folk you’ll prob­a­bly know the dis­tinc­tive smell of the sugar-beet fac­to­ries, the sub­ject of an­other project; the team want to in­ter­view peo­ple who have been as­so­ci­ated with this im­por­tant in­dus­try, par­tic­u­larly in the Cant­ley area down­river from the city of Nor­wich.

There’s a par­tic­u­lar fo­cus on older par­tic­i­pants. WISEArchive staff be­lieve that older peo­ple have made an im­por­tant con­tri­bu­tion dur­ing their work­ing lives, and their ex­pe­ri­ences should be pre­served. The sec­ond half of the 20th cen­tury was a pe­riod of in­creas­ingly rapid change in the work­place. Em­ploy­ees and man­age­ment had to adapt as new skills and ideas, tech­nolo­gies, healt­hand-safety leg­is­la­tion and much more were im­ple­mented. Unions be­came stronger, but many es­tab­lished work­ing prac­tices be­came ob­so­lete. The ar­chive is a liv­ing his­tor­i­cal record of so much that has been lost.

The group sec­re­tary, Ol­wen Gotts, ex­plains why she finds her work so ful­fill­ing: “It’s the plea­sure many of our con­trib­u­tors feel, and the very pos­i­tive feed­back we re­ceive. Our in­ter­view­ers en­joy meet­ing a great va­ri­ety of peo­ple with won­der­ful sto­ries, and some real Nor­folk char­ac­ters! Our tran­scribers and ed­i­tors en­joy lis­ten­ing to and work­ing on the sto­ries, as well. We love our con­trib­u­tors’ en­ergy and en­thu­si­asm.”

She adds: “We have had so­cial his­to­ri­ans and au­thors ap­proach us with re­quests to use as­pects of the ar­chive, as there may be in­for­ma­tion and per­spec­tives that are not so ac­ces­si­ble else­where. Also our record­ings have been used as part of ex­hi­bi­tions at the Gressen­hall Farm and Work­house Mu­seum of Nor­folk Life.”

New con­tri­bu­tions are al­ways wel­come from those who wish to pre­serve the story of their work­ing life. If you have worked in Nor­folk and would like to record your rec­ol­lec­tions for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions WISEArchive would be de­lighted to hear from you, whether for a par­tic­u­lar project or as an in­di­vid­ual life story.

The ar­chive is a liv­ing his­tor­i­cal record of so much that has been lost

WISEArchive’s pho­to­graphs in­clude a woman pack­ing baby food for Col­man’s and a nurse in the 1970s

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