CELEBRATING YOUR PROJECTS
Recording working life in Norfolk
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