Affective Digital Histories: Recreating De-industrial Places, 1970s to the Present

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leicester
Department Name: School of Management

Abstract

The proposed research investigates how community ties and bonds have changed, and continue to change, through periods of decline and regeneration of urban landscapes in some of Britain's post-industrial towns and cities. The archival materials that document these changes can be difficult to access and are currently scattered in different places. The University of Leicester has been awarded a number of research grants to do the work of collecting, analysing and digitising the data that exists.

The period from the 1970s to the 1990s, in particular, presents an interesting challenge to academic researchers because we know that while the decline of British manufacturing in the late twentieth century is well-documented, the stories 'out there' have not been told or researched for what they can tell us about people's emotional 'feel' for a place that they and their community might have been part of. These stories form an important tapestry of information about how certain communities think about, feel and use physical spaces that have undergone regeneration in recent decades. In Leicester, for instance, these include dance halls, rave venues and alternative clubs for a variety of uses.

This project, therefore, aims to bring together existing research on historical and heritage sites that have fallen into disuse and/or disrepair and that are now undergoing some kind of regeneration by city and local councils. Having done this, the researchers and community participants will then work closely together to develop a digital archive of open and publicly accessible data that forms a repository of some of the stories of communities that used, worked and played in these buildings. The two sites for our study are Leicester's Cultural Quarter and Glossop's Howard Town and Whitfield Wards. University of Leicester researchers working in different departments (Management, Urban History, Geography, Museum Studies and Creative Writing) are pooling their knowledge and expertise to co-create original digital assets based on stories of how communities change how buildings and heritage sites are used, even as the buildings themselves help to shape human activities that take place in and around them.

We believe that digital technologies facilitate enduring and sustainable research assets that can be used and enjoyed by the public, schools, researchers, civic organisations and creative arts practitioners and businesses for generations to come. A key driver for our research is how people 'feel' a place and how they describe it to themselves and others. A series of activities and workshops are planned to draw in participants from a range of backgrounds: civic organisations, writers, artists, arts venues, local councils as well as arts organisations and digital arts venues (like the Phoenix in Leicester's Cultural Quarter, for instance). Two of these, for instance, involve creating an interactive 'audio trail' that provides a historical soundtrack to the various areas around the Cultural Quarter. Drawing upon interview data, a digital agency will work with academics to create soundtracks that are then made available to participants and visitors via WiFi. As people move around, they will experience a historical soundscape that will offer unique experiences of this space. In Glossop, three-dimensional models of buildings would be accessible to people that incorporate stories and experiences of various under-researched mining communities and businesses in the area that have, as mentioned, experienced de-industrialisation in a personal way.

All these outputs will leave an important legacy for anyone interested in understanding how personal and hitherto private lives were lived during the late 1970s and 1990s but who are also keen to discover insights into the economically and culturally 'big' questions of how communities can shape the environments in which they lived.

Planned Impact

It is expected that the following groups or organisations would accrue benefits from this research.

Local community groups and heritage groups.
The research aims to engage with a range of local community and heritage groups, including artists and writers, ex-users of de-industrial spaces, creative arts businesses, residents and visitors to both Leicester and Glossop. Community groups include the Glossop Heritage Trust, Glossop Historical Association,the Glossop Heritage Trust, Glossop Historical Association, Lift Global Music, Asian communities, the Asian Writer, Writing East Midlands, Mainstream Partnership, Word!, Short Fuse Fiction. The aim of this engagement is to co-design and co-produce a research project that reveals community use of former industrial buildings and produce digital data resources that are made available as open access platforms for use by these and other community and heritage groups.

Local cultural producers .
The research materials on former industrial spaces in the urban settlements of Leicester and Glossop will also be made available through open access platforms for use by local artists, poets, musicians, writers and other cultural producers, including local residents, community groups and businesses. As indicated by the letters of support research involving the applicants has already impacted local community and cultural organisations becoming a valued element of their current work. It is expected that the current project would expand this impact particular in relation to the use of digitat methods and data. Civic authorities and organisations including High Peaks Community Arts and Phoenix Arts will benefit from the development of local creativity among and between diverse and marginalised or 'hard to reach' populations. The local authorities in both study locations, as elsewhere, have clearly identified culture as a driver of economic regeneration of former industrial areas, and the current project would contribute to these strategies both through its creation and dissemination of heritage resources and through the development of skills and assets in the cultural and digital economies. Creative arts businesses, content producers as well as the range of arts organisations and venues within both localities stand to benefit greatly from the exposure and publicity garnered as a result of this work with communities.

Local visitors and associated businesses
The research and its associated creative outputs would be made available to visitors to the two study locations and it is expected that the visitors would benefit through improvements in their visitor experience. Leicester City and Leicestershire Councils both actively seek to promote the city as being an 'experience destination', with the Cultural Quarter being a key element of this strategy. Glossop is also seeking to enhance its visitor experience, supplementing its long established position of being a 'gateway to the Peak District' with a 'Design and Place Making Strategy' that aims to foster an identity as an 'independent and creative the town' (High Peaks District Council 2011). In both locations, industrial heritage is seen to constitute major focus of visitor demand, and it is therefore expected that the project's focus on this heritage would be of value to them, and also to businesses that serve visitor demands.

School children, students and adult learners.
The project's outputs are likely to be of considerable educational benefit. Work conducted as part of the Manufacturing Industrial Pasts has already demonstrated how digitisation of historical material relating to Leicester's Cultural Quarter can be of great value to undergraduate and postgraduate students, and it is envisaged that the benefits to this group would be extended by this project's additional focus on the creation of cultural presentations and performances that draw on such materials.

Publications


10 25 50
 
Title Creative Writing Commissions 
Description Poems, flash fiction, choreopoem and plays 
Type Of Art Creative Writing 
Year Produced 2014 
Impact Public readings at various arts venues. These have all been completely sold out! Nottingham Contemporary has expressed interest in making a film from one of the commissions. 
 
Title Mobile apps and video booth 
Description A suite of mobile apps on the Empedia platform that provides augmented reality experiences for users as well as an interactive video booth for participants to record their memories of cultural spaces. 
Type Of Art Artefact (including digital) 
Year Produced 2014 
Impact * Actively engage the public on the 'hidden' histories of de-industrial spaces in Britain. 
 
Description We have discovered that experiences of urban de-industrialisation are extraordinarily 'present' for many people in Britain. Further, we found that digital, multi-sensory approaches greatly helped people and communities to express their emotions about places and spaces in an entirely new way, enabling novel interpretations of archival material, extant audio-visual recordings, photographs, music and the literary arts.
Exploitation Route Our project's outcomes will interest all community-led partnerships that aim at the cultivation and expression of civic pride and urban heritage conservation. Further, our findings on digital heritage, soundscapes and commissioned creative writing represent innovative ways of thinking about place-making and place branding by urban designers, tourism development offices, practitioners, local government, etc. The co-productive method highlighted in our research also showcases the benefits of a partnership approach among, and between, local councils, universities, businesses and social enterprises as well as community venues and craftspeople.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Construction,Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Environment,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections,Retail,Other
URL http://www.affectivedigitalhistories.org.uk
 
Description Project findings have been showcased to over 12,000 visitors comprising digital arts practitioners, curators, designers, students at all levels and other visitors at the V&A's 'Digital Design Weekend' (Sept. 2015). An exhibition booklet and outputs have also been published under Creative Commons licence by the V&A. Findings have also been featured on BBC Radio Leicester, the Leicester Mercury and the BBC. Last but not least, our findings have been written up as a journal paper submitted to the International Journal of Heritage Studies (IJHS). This paper engages with the affective turn in heritage studies by examining the ways in which co-produced research can produce a better understanding of human experiences of historic urban places. More specifically, the paper examines how the combination of digital and non-digital sources and methods can capture the affective dimensions of cities as they transition from de-industrial to post-industrial places.
First Year Of Impact 2015
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Environment,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Economic
 
Title Augmented sound (digital) apps and creative commissions 
Description Curation of soundscapes in de-industrial spaces and the layering of original creative content (flash fiction, choreopoems, etc.) on top of existing 'industrial' sounds as well as entirely new combinations of sounds. 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2014 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact We've had extensive coverage by BBC East Midlands and city newspapers (Leicester Mercury), with a combined audience of over 400,000. Other researchers from Queen's University, Belfast and Glasgow University have, as a result, begun discussions with me to co-produce a Digital Heritage Festival showcasing these new methods at the Digital Humanities Conference in Summer and Autumn 2015. 
 
Description Phoenix, Cuttlefish and High Peak Arts 
Organisation Cuttlefish Multimedia
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK) 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution We have provided intellectual, artistic, historical and organisational content to the team at Phoenix Arts and High Peak Arts through our creative commissions, frequent and regular team meetings and infrastructure at the University's David Wilson Library Special Collections (a nationally-recognised archive of the de-industrial heritage of Britain). Working with a digital media agency, we have also helped curate the original outputs for audience engagement that Phoenix Arts seeks for the purpose of continuously innovating its services to the public.
Collaborator Contribution They have shared their valuable access to artists in Leicester's Cultural Quarter. High Peak Arts have done the same for the Glossop strand of the project.
Impact * Website * Interactive video booth * Public workshops * Public launch * Original research data, including interviews, photographs and digital outputs such as mobile apps
Start Year 2014
 
Description Phoenix, Cuttlefish and High Peak Arts 
Organisation Phoenix Arts and Cinema
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK) 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution We have provided intellectual, artistic, historical and organisational content to the team at Phoenix Arts and High Peak Arts through our creative commissions, frequent and regular team meetings and infrastructure at the University's David Wilson Library Special Collections (a nationally-recognised archive of the de-industrial heritage of Britain). Working with a digital media agency, we have also helped curate the original outputs for audience engagement that Phoenix Arts seeks for the purpose of continuously innovating its services to the public.
Collaborator Contribution They have shared their valuable access to artists in Leicester's Cultural Quarter. High Peak Arts have done the same for the Glossop strand of the project.
Impact * Website * Interactive video booth * Public workshops * Public launch * Original research data, including interviews, photographs and digital outputs such as mobile apps
Start Year 2014
 
Description Public and Voluntary Sector Networks and Partnerships 
Organisation Leicester City Council
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK) 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution A new set of collaborations were formed with Leicester City Council and Leicestershire County Council as well as with 24 charities and advocacy groups in the health and wellbeing sector, as well as with two Health commissioners newly appointed to their posts as part of the reforms to the NHS' Health and Wellbeing Boards. These partnerships have resulted in three robust datasets, four academic papers at three separate conferences and an extensive follow-on chain of collaborations with the city and county councils.
Start Year 2011
 
Title Mobile apps 
Description A suite of interactive mobile locative apps on iTunes that allows users to listen to and narrate their own discoveries. 
Type Of Technology Webtool/Application 
Year Produced 2014 
Impact The apps will be launched on the 27th of November 2014. We expect at least 1000 active users who will feed in further content. 
URL http://affectivedigitalhistories.org.uk/