Women’s Work, a Hyndburn based heritage project which has listened to and collated stories from women who lived and worked in the local area in the 1960s and 70s, have now installed a ‘Talking Chair’ in Accrington Library, giving you the chance to hear those very stories.
From standing up against men who thought women should not be in business and being asked to do a pregnancy test at a job interview, to needing their husband’s permission to open a bank account, the stories showcase the experiences of a generation of women whose voices are long unheard and whose stories often go untold.
The interviews were gathered after the culmination of 12 months’ work during the first UK lockdown and the stories were even used in a short film, which was shown to the public back in September 2021, with more than 120 people gathering at Accrington Market Hall to tune in.
Now the History in Action (CIC) project, funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, have introduced the ‘Talking Chair’ which when sat on, automatically activates an audio loop of extracts from the funny but also sometimes shocking experiences from Accrington’s working women.
The interview clips, which are grouped by theme – early life and childhood, first job, as well as marriage, finances and childcare – last from one to six minutes, with interviews in Urdu and Punjabi at the end of the loop.
The chair was designed by Jane Revitt Talking Furniture http://www.janerevitt.co.uk/story_chairs.htm in collaboration with the women, many of whom had worked in Accrington’s textile industry.
Each woman contributed three words which described their working lives and these were incorporated into the fabric design. The fabric was printed by Lantex in Accrington and the chair was upholstered in Preston by Mike Ward of Verve Designs.
Hyndburn-born celebrity and television actor, Julie Hesmondhalgh, said: “We have so many reasons to thank the working women of our town from the 1960s and 70s. It’s because of their hard work, determination and campaigning, that we can enjoy a more equal society today.
“The chair looks absolutely wonderful and just sitting down in it for a few minutes really does inspire you and also entertain you, with some fantastic stories from so many lovely women.”
Oral history researcher/project manager at Women’s Work, Trizia Wells, commented: “History in Action is absolutely thrilled that the talking chair is being installed in Accrington Library, almost two years to the day since Women’s Work began.
“Library visitors will be able to sit in the chair and hear the women talking about their struggles to be treated fairly and build a career on an equal footing with men. Their stories may sometimes shock but what shines through is these women’s strong personalities, a sense of humour and a determination to stand their ground despite the setbacks. I don’t think anyone will be able to listen without laughing out loud or a sharp intake of breath!”
Trizia added: “Women’s Work started out as a ten month project, but the pandemic obviously put paid to that. Many local organisations and individuals helped to bring the project to fruition in the light of changing circumstances.
“We are especially grateful to Katherine Walsh, manager at Accrington Library, for agreeing to host the chair. The library is absolutely the right place for it and a great way for Accringtonians to find out what it was like to be a woman in the early days of equality. We hope the chair will spark lots of conversations between the generations and give today’s young women an appreciation of the battles fought by those who went before them.”
Murray Dawson, Chair of #AmazingAccrington and Managing Director of Scott Dawson Advertising, the latter providing marketing and videography support for the project, commented: “This is a fabulous free attraction for the people of Hyndburn to celebrate the women who have helped to shape the borough.”
To hear the stories remotely in full and to watch the film about the project, produced by History in Action’s playwright/producer Mick Martin, visit www.stanhillvillage.co.uk.