Developing a people’s history of post-war Lewisham to celebrate Lewisham’s tenure as London Borough of Culture 2022
Throughout 2022, Goldsmiths supported diverse communities within Lewisham to tell their own stories by exploring hidden histories, preserving memory, and creating lasting cultural legacies that stretch beyond Borough of Culture.
From commissioning new public artworks and cultural interventions in the public realm, to exhibitions and installations that evoked lost spaces and stories, In Living Memory has reached thousands of local people and given everyone connected with Lewisham the opportunity to share their memories of the borough.
The In Living Memory team, led by Public Engagement Manager, Will Cenci and Goldsmiths Historian, Dr John Price, worked with six community-led projects to preserve vital histories of the borough in a publicly accessible Digital Archive and Virtual Museum. These resources pass on the memories of Lewisham residents to future generations and provide an inspiring resource for the historians and artists of tomorrow.
Six projects were chosen from over 70 expressions of interest by an expert panel, reflecting important stories held within the borough’s recent history:
- A Caribbean Couturier in Lewisham – Uncovering the textile legacies of the women of the Windrush Generation.
- In/Visible Labour – Gathering experiences of midwives, carers and families from Lewisham Hospital’s maternity ward.
- Lewisham Underwater – Telling the story of the Lewisham floods of 1968 and connecting them to the borough’s relationship with its rivers.
- Pioneers and Protest – Remembering the powerful legacy of the 1981 Black People’s Day of Action.
- Tomorrow is Built Today – Celebrating the untold story of Lewisham’s Black-led self-build movement.
- Where to, now the sequins have gone? – Remembering Lewisham’s lost gay venues that thrived from the 1970s-90s.
With advice from academics of nine Goldsmiths departments, research resources and access to training, the project teams recorded oral histories, gathered memories, and preserved photographs, documents and ephemera to build a new understanding of often forgotten or marginalised histories.
The projects then responded to their research with a series of cultural activities and events, co-produced with support from Goldsmiths and Lewisham’s culture team, that shared their stories in creative and impactful ways.
The programme also engaged 12 students through placements in community-led projects, artist commissions and interactive memory-gathering activities with community groups, at local festivals and on Lewisham’s high streets.
Events and activities
A Caribbean Couturier in Lewisham, led by Joy Prime, presented an immersive exhibition, ‘Sylvia’s Space’, in Lewisham Shopping Centre.
Following conversations with elderly Caribbean residents about their experiences travelling to Britain in the 1960s as part of the Windrush generation, Joy discovered how they created made-to-measure couture clothing for family and community alongside their day jobs.
“This project has been an amazing journey for me. When I started, I didn’t really know how it would pan out, but it has left me filled with gratitude for the experience, to the people who willingly shared their life experience, and the team who helped me bring my vision to fruition.”
- Joy Prime
The exhibition recreated the Lewisham flat her family moved into after arriving from Trinidad in 1963, complete with period furniture, a sewing machine and a tailor dummy.
This involved input from Goldsmiths Design lecturer Rose Sinclair.
In/Visible Labour engaged maternity staff at Lewisham Hospital to produce a new piece of art for the ward. The project also worked with Arts Network, a local mental health charity, to collaboratively create a mural for the hospital.
Lewisham Underwater, a collaborative project between the Quaggy Waterways Action Group and Lewisham Council, ran river activities, produced a new ‘flood beer’, Deluge, with Brockley Brewery made from locally foraged hops, and commissioned a new piece of public art to be built on the banks of the river Quaggy.
IRIE! dance theatre’s project Pioneers and Protest, held a community day at the historic Moonshot Centre to showcase performances, gather memories of the Black People’s Day of Action and invite the community to contribute to a collaborative quilt reflecting their memories of 1981.
The project produced a new film, Pioneers and Protest: Seeking Change, with a screening and panel discussion held at Goldsmiths during Black History Month.
Tomorrow is Built Today saw project lead Tim Oshodi, open his home on Nubia Way (a street of timber frame eco-homes built as part of Europe’s first Black-led community self-building scheme) for Open House London. Celebrating the nature of self-build projects, he exhibited new written experiences and a new documentary film of original self-builders as part of the opening.
A new temporary timber-frame structure based on the ground-breaking eco-homes of Nubia Way is also being erected in Beckenham Place Park in April 2023. It will provide a sustainable shelter for park users, whilst telling the story of Nubia Way.
Where to, now the sequins have gone?, led by Bijou Stories, gathered memories of the lost gay venues of Lewisham, turning interviews into a moving podcast exploring the history of such spaces and the role they played in Lewisham’s gay community.
The project also held an exhibition in Lewisham Shopping Centre that functioned as a temporary queer space with a full schedule of events.
Across community days, exhibitions, film screenings and many other activities, the projects welcomed over 2,500 people to explore local histories that have shaped the borough into what it is today.
A rich variety of memories were gathered across the programme, shared by Lewisham residents in different ways.
At Hilly Fields Summer Fayre and Lewisham People’s Day, local people shared their memories through written postcards. A free-phone line was set up to encourage residents to call and leave their memory after the tone.
The programme team visited several senior citizen groups, recording the experiences of Lewisham’s elderly residents in sessions co-produced with local organisations.
The programme team also ran a pop-up Memory Store in Lewisham Shopping Centre, inviting shoppers to share their memories of the town centre on a record sleeve or VHS cover.
Memories and stories generated from the six projects, found a permanent home in the In Living Memory Digital Archive, preserving the stories they tell for future generations.
Each community-led project selected a space resonant with their chosen area to be 3D scanned and turned into a virtual space. These curated spaces were populated with memories, films, photos and more, collectively forming a virtual museum of the programme.
The virtual spaces were created in collaboration with Hybrid Histories based within Goldsmiths’ Department of Computing.
While Lewisham’s year as London Borough of Culture came to an end in 2022, In Living Memory looks to the future.
Led by Dr Francis Gilbert, the stories uncovered by the six projects are being translated into a series of lesson packs for local schools by researchers from Goldsmiths’ Educational Studies Department in collaboration with the project leads. These packs will make important Lewisham histories accessible to teachers wishing to bring local history into their classrooms.
Many of the projects have since secured further funding to take their projects to new places.
Joy Prime took her immersive exhibition, ‘Sylvia’s Space’, to City Hall for the Mayor of London’s Black Futures event.
IRIE! dance theatre, project lead for Pioneers and Protest, has secured Heritage Lottery funding to rediscover the history of the dance theatre through performances, workshops, talks and exhibitions as part of the project, Pioneers and Places.
Where to, now the sequins have gone? Received additional funding from the GLA’s Untold Stories programme to expand their project to other areas of London.
In spring 2023, In Living Memory will conclude with a community conference and exhibition, bringing together key contributors to discuss the challenges and successes of the programme. These conversations will inform a new toolkit to inspire and empower other community groups to uncover untold stories and share them through striking cultural interventions.
The In Living Memory Programme was supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, We Are Lewisham, and the London Borough of Culture.