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20 March 2017

Women’s Stories of Ford Dagenham –
Meet the Project Co-ordinator

 

First off how did you find so many Ford Dagenham stories?

Lucy: It was real challenge. Many of the women who went on strike in 1968 have moved out of the area, some of them have died and most don’t have access to the internet. I spent almost every day for 2 weeks talking to people in local pubs, shops and knocking on doors Havering, Barking & Dagenham. I went into a pie shop in Hornchurch and the lady behind the bar had worked at Fords over twenty years ago. I started to realise that everyone knew someone who worked at Fords at some point in their lives. We held a really successful Reminiscence Event at Havering Museum where we recorded our first few interviews.  I also posted in Facebook pages like ‘Dagenham Memories’ to get the word out. Once you’ve found one woman who worked at Ford, it’s much easier to find others.

What is oral history? What are the key challenges?

Lucy: Oral History is the collection of history or information documented through the spoken word. It’s recorded through interviews using dictaphones to collect the stories, and it’s a really unique way of seeing into the past. Some historians don’t think that oral history is valid because it’s somebody’s own opinions and experiences, but many think its valuable as a way to understand how our communities are changing, right down to the way we speak or how our accents change. Oral History has been integral in understanding how people living under certain rules or within a certain time dealt with life.

The challenges with Oral History is obviously where you find the interviewees and finding a range of different voices, experiences and stories to complement whatever you’re trying to create. As we were making a documentary, it was really important that the quality of our recording was high. I think the hardest thing to do – and what our young volunteers found the hardest – was conducting an Oral History interview. In Oral History interviews it’s all about the person you’re interviewing, and for the sake of editing the interviews later on, you’ve got to remain silent. You can’t join in on the conversation which is tricky sometimes. You’ve got to really listen and trust yourself to know what question to ask next.

How did you go about creating an exhibition for this project?

Lucy: I think it’s all about understanding what story you want to tell. I wanted to highlight the 1984 strikes because many of us don’t actually realise that there was another strike in 1984 and how important it was for the women’s effort. I worked with a brilliant Sound Designer and Visual Designer and we worked collaboratively to create the documentary. We spent over 20 hours in the sound editing suite just going through sound clips and fitting them together within a narrative. This took a number of weeks to do. I also had to transcribe every single interview and that took a very long time.

Where is the exhibition touring to?

Lucy: We wanted to take it to cultural and community hubs around Havering, Barking & Dagenham. Keeping it local but allowing people of all ages to have a chance to interact with it. At the moment, it’s currently exhibiting at Havering Museum in Romford. It’ll go to schools, libraries and art galleries over the next 5 months and will end up at the Queen’s Theatre throughout May 2017.

What do you want to achieve from the tour?

Lucy: These stories have never been told before and we want as many people to see it as possible from all different walks of life. This fight started by women in Dagenham, many of whom had never gone on strike before, has impacted on the rest of female suffrage across the world. I hope the documentary reminds people about the power we hold in our communities and the inequality that still needs to be addressed in our workplaces.

Were the Women of Ford Dagenham happy to share their story?

Lucy: Many of them were, yes. Some of them have shared their stories before so were quite comfortable in sharing it with us. For others, this was the first time they had shared their story so it probably was quite a nerve-racking experience, and it meant that we had to work harder as interviewees to encourage them to delve deeper into the stories.

We found around 50 stories which took a long time to find – many women who we got in touch with really didn’t want to tell their stories. I’m not sure why this was – perhaps they don’t think their stories are valuable?

You worked with young women to create this exhibition-why are intergenerational projects important?

Lucy: We worked with 10 young women who were raised in the boroughs of Havering, Barking and Dagenham. This project specifically focussed on women and their her-story. We wanted to encourage that direct handing down of her-story from one woman of one generation to another generation, to inspire and influence and realise how powerful women are.

I think intergenerational projects are more important than ever. We live in a very different country than people of 50 years ago. Our way of life has changed, our ideals have changed, our education has changed, and I think in many ways, this divides generations. More than ever now, intergenerational projects are needed to bridge the gap between the generations, to understand and to be understood, and to inspire and instil hope.

What has this project taught you about gender equality today?

Lucy: Women’s suffrage has come a long way over the past 100 years but that change has been very gradual and it was only in 2015 where David Cameron pledged to iron out the inequalities for women in the workplace over the next 20 years. We sometimes become complacent that the fight has been won and this project has been a timely reminder that there is still work to do.

Can we read these women’s stories online?

Lucy: Yes, if you can’t make it down to the exhibition, we have all our information online: you can watch the documentary, read the transcripts and download a guide which helps you create your very own Oral History project at www.womensstoriesofforddagenham.co.uk

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