Sharing stories of WW1 Munition factories In North and North East London

Female munition workers in a Birmingham factory, March 1918. Copyright: © IWM. (Q 108408)


The Billy Youth Engagement Project ‘Sharing stories of WW1 Munition factories In North and North East London’:

Dr Sam Carroll from the Gateways to the First World War Engagement Centre talks about a case study “The Billy Youth Engagement Project” .  Sam is the Commmunity Heritage Researcher for the Gateways Centre. 

Over the past three years the AHRC funded Gateways to the First World War Engagement Centre team have tried and tested a variety of outreach engagement strategies with community projects funded by, or looking for funding from, the Heritage Lottery Fund’s “First World War: Then and Now” programme for grants from £3,000 to £10,000.

Jenny Roberts talking about ‘Women the uniformed munitionette’. Photo courtesy of Bienvenu Kitu

My experience so far as Gateways’ Community Heritage Researcher has disclosed one important factor in determining our team’s ability to offer the most effective support to projects and that is for us to make first contact at the earliest possible stage of project development. This enables us to understand and advise on research focus and build our support into the planning and funding bid from the outset. A barrier here has always been the result of data protection issues. The HLF are unable to give us direct contact details for project applicants until after they have applied for funding.

Poster from 1917 encouraging women to become munitions workers. Copyright: © IWM (Art.IWM PST 5471)

Outreach solutions to this dilemma are mainly twofold. Firstly, the HLF Regional Development Offices actively direct potential projects to our webpage when they are at the enquiry (pre-application) stage. This is when project enquirers have made first contact with the office, presented an outline of their project ideas and been allocated a development officer to advise them on those ideas.

B.Y.E.P Groups WW1 munitions Factories Project 2017 London. Photo courtesy of Bienvenu Kitu

If the project enquirer acts on the HLF advice to contact Gateways, then we are able to respond very quickly and get our support plans in early. This hinges, however, on the project applicants feeling able, inspired or motivated enough to get in touch with us directly, and so can be a barrier to engagement for those that for whatever reason feel unable or unwilling to do so. Many projects miss out on or decide against our support at this early stage.

Garry Stewart lecturing about Munitions & black labour on frontline. Photo courtesy of Bienvenu Kitu

Another outreach solution is in the shape of “Discovery Days” where we co-host free project planning workshops with a regional HLF Development Office in an accessible venue. We showcase successful projects and relevant academic research, offer one-to-one advice and guidance and encourage networking opportunities. These events are publicised through the HLF directly to all those at the project enquiry stage and are useful for engaging with those less likely to make contact via the website that are more keen to show up and engage in person. There will still be groups that for whatever reason we are unable to reach, but both of these strategies have had their successes.

This case study exemplifies the first of these engagement approaches. Mr Bienvenu Kitu from the Tottenham based Billy Youth Engagement Project made a project enquiry with the HLF London office in late December 2016/early January 2017 and was directed to Gateways for support. He contacted us with some broad and unrefined project ideas, requesting a telephone conversation as his preferred response. My immediate impression from this first engagement was that the project outline required some clear research focus refinement, especially considering the ambitious plans for outcomes and outputs and limited funding available. A brief internet search indicated that the group were intending to research almost everything related to the First World War (FWW) in the local Borough of Haringey; from food production, through women’s experiences and prisoners of war, to munitions and local football heroes.

Miss Lilian Barker OBE and a group of female war workers from the ‘danger buildings’ at Woolwich Arsenal. © IWM (Q 27893).

During the first telephone conversation I suggested that the project might benefit from concentrating on one, or perhaps two, of these local FFW research themes, especially with a heritage focus that would be of significant interest to their volunteers, in order to maximise participation. I directed them to some on-line resources including archive websites and other research projects related to their intended themes or locality.

Ketshia and Caprice from the Billy Youth Engagement Project
Ketshia and Caprice from the Billy Youth Engagement Project. Photo courtesy of Bienvenu Kitu

In a later communication Bienvenu Kitu told me that the enquiry response from the HLF Development Office echoed my concerns, and in due course the group decided to focus on FWW munitions factories in North and North East London. Their plan was to recruit a team of volunteers to visit the locations of five factories across the Boroughs of Haringey, Barnet, Hackney and Enfield and photograph the buildings or areas in which they once stood as they are found today. Making use of local archives along with the National Archives and Historic England in Swindon, they intended to explore and collect resources including old photographs in order to create their final output; a community exhibition at the Broadwater Farm Community Centre.

Jenny Roberts - WW1 Women and Long shifts on the factories
Jenny Roberts – WW1 Women and Long shifts on the factories. Photo courtesy of Bienvenu Kitu

At this point I was able to reach out to our Gateways network and identify researchers who might be willing and able to work as advisers for this project, and we soon had Dr Chris Corker (University of York) and Jenny Roberts (University of Brighton) on board, willing to share their expertise in First World War munition factories and workers. I was then able to draft a letter of support to accompany the Billy Youth Engagement Project HLF funding application, with Gateways agreeing to cover expenses for Chris Corker and Jenny Roberts to each travel to London to deliver a talk for the project participants, we also agreed to help publicise the project on our webpage and through our newsletters and to invite project participants to our Gateways events and workshops. They submitted their bid on 7th March 2017 and by the 10th April we heard that it was successful.

In addition to the research and project development advice already provided, we agreed to help organise two research workshops with the Billy Youth Engagement Project to be hosted at The Broadwater Farm Community Centre where the community group were based. These took place on two Saturdays in August (5th and 19th, 2017) and were well attended with an attentive and responsive intergenerational audience. Across the workshops Dr Chris Corker spoke on “Rediscovering the Histories of Munitions Factories, 1915-1918: People, Places, Professions and Production” and Jenny Roberts on “The Uniformed ‘Munitionette’”. We also managed to recruit and cover expenses for some other valuable community-based speakers including Judith Garfield MBE (Eastside Community Heritage) on the “Silvertown Explosion Project”, Garry Stewart (Recognize Black Heritage and Culture) on “Munitions and Black Labour on The Frontline” and Pauline Walker (StrongBack Productions) on the “Chigger Foot Boys, Jamaican Soldiers in World War One”. Judith Garfield brought along and displayed the Silvertown Explosion Exhibition at one of the workshops which was produced as an output for a FWW HLF Eastside Community Heritage project and Gateways Centre Manager Eileen Hartney and I took turns in facilitating the two events.

The Venesta factory lies in ruins following the detonation of 83 tonnes of TNT at the Brunner Mond’s explosives factory in Silvertown, East London, on 19 January 1917. Copyright: © IWM (Q 15364)

Due to our ongoing AHRC funding, our Gateways team are delighted to have had the resources required to offer this invaluable support to this project. Over the two workshops the project participants not only learned from leading academics in their field of interest, but also from other HLF funded projects who were generous enough to come along and share their own project findings and methods to the group. The events were everything that we had hoped for. Gateways were keen to capture some of this activity in order to publicise the sort of in-kind support that we can offer to projects and so we recruited Funder Films CIC to film the first of these workshops. The result can be found on our website here:

Female munitions workers making fuse plugs in one of the workshops in a British factory. Copyright: © IWM (Q 54616)


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