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Remembering Coventry: Ghost Town Haunting #1

16-22 April 2018, Shop Front Theatre, 38 City Arcade, Coventry, CV1 3HW.

Remembering Coventry: Ghost Town Haunting # 1 was a week-long exhibition celebrating Coventry’s local television history, at Theatre Absolute’s Shop Front Theatre in the city centre of Coventry. It was generously supported by the University of Warwick's Impact Fund. Click here for the BBC's online coverage of the exhibition, and click here for coverage from Touch FM's Coventry Culture Show.

Visitors to the exhibition engaged with various screens (including a pair of vintage living room sets) displaying showreels of programmes made in and about Coventry, co-curated with researchers from the University of Warwick, Kaleidoscope’s Chris Perry, and the Media Archive for Central England. Our showreels ran to four and half hours in length (and some people stayed or came back to watch it in its entirety, which we weren't expecting!). Much of this footage had not been seen since its original broadcast, and it was digitised and preserved for the exhibition.

646 people came along and look for lost loved ones, their younger selves, their old houses or places of work in our screenings, and joined the conversation about the city’s past, present and future.

What were our visitors doing:

- We noticed that watching our showreels inspired a 'memory explosion' for some people, so we started out talking to them about what they were watching and often learned a great deal about people's family histories, personal histories, employment histories, etc.

- People got very animated when they talked to us - and each other - about the city’s working history; the boom and bust of a working class city, and stories of both staying in Coventry vs working away.

- Some of the stories of Coventry's past in our reels made uncomfortable viewing for some people, particularly around race relations in the city, and the struggle for LGBT+ rights in Coventry. Nearly everyone we spoke to about this acknowledged that it was 'necessary' to confront/acknowledge these histories

- Lots of people talked to us about wanting better/more open/continual access to the archives we had drawn on in curating our exhibition

- We talked to a variety of people across the week who recognised themselves or people they knew in our showreels. This was often quite an emotional experience for people, and they brought other friends and family members back to the exhibition to experience this with them. The daughter and granddaughter of Lionel Boddy (of the BMW factory, who appears in the Philip Donnellan documentary, Coventry Kids) came in especially to see the film. Boddy's granddaughter spoke to screen (“Turn around granddad!” “It’s like he’s returned from the dead”) and both were moved by this experience. Click here for an interview on BBC C&W with Martin Bowes talking about seeing himself when younger at the exhibition.

- People brought us gifts linked to the city's history throughout the week: treasured newspapers covering the consecration of the cathedral, a poem about the Locarno ballroom. This seemed to be a recognition for our valuing the city’s heritage.

- People often noted that watching archival TV helped trigger memories that they wouldn’t have remembered otherwise; this was often said in conjunction with noting that it was really important to preserve these clips.

- We were delighted to welcome the women of the FWT Women's Health and Wellbeing Coffee Morning to the exhibition. A number of the women in this group are newly arrived in the city and offered an interesting perspective on the stories about Coventry and its people in our exhibition. They were keen to discuss what might have happened to the young Muslim women in one of our programmes, and to track the story of the people on screen from migrant to settled. They also noted that some of the problems facing young muslim women in the 70s and 80s as shown in our reels are still problems that they face today.

- For these women, and for other people commenting on the comparative state of the city in the 50s/60s/70s and now, the television archive doesnt always reveal a story of progress for the city. It also marks decline, and a lack of progress in some areas.

- One of the FWT visitors said this: I think there is still a preconception that Coventry is a white, working-class place, and though that’s true, there are so many other communities that are so welcoming to other faiths, and other people, and in this footage, we saw that. All women were welcome, you could bring in different languages and cultures, and I don’t think that white, working-class people quite do the same thing, and we need to focus more on removing that stigma, removing that idea that Coventry was a place you were sent to as a punishment. Lots of people say that Coventry is ugly, because it was just built so quickly, these big, concrete buildings, but at the time, that footage shows these new buildings that people were proud of.

- When asked if you were to bring a camera to your area to film one thing that represents the City, what one thing would you show the camera crew, the women of the FWT had some interesting responses:

C: I think I would bring them into my own culture. We do celebrations differently, I’m Ukrainian, we do Easter differently, all the women and food, it would be crazy.

E: I would like to show them how we fast, and how we do Ramadan, and pray early in the morning.

A: When I came to this country, cultures used to stick together, do things together, but because everyone has moved around now, we don’t really get that anymore, everybody is all over and that doesn’t happen anymore. At Church, we do a lot for the homeless people, so that could be something I could show. The only place I think of is the Foleshill Women’s Centre. I feel really accepted there, a lot of foreign girls used to come, Polish and stuff, we connected, it was important and I class it as something I would always come back to, I felt so accepted, they gave me confidence. Really nice piece to share with the BBC – how has the city been imagined and how should it be imagined now

- A family came in who had seen themselves on our poster (“We want to stay and see it all. Its no surprise we saw ourselves – this is our history”). The mum of the family came back on her own and talked about how important it was for her to have the space to reflect on her past in relation to our screenings (“I don’t get chance, looking after my husband every day. I’m normally caring for him and doing the housework on a Sunday. I feel quite emotional.")

- On our feedback cards, nearly two thirds of our visitors talked about learning something new about their city. A third of our visitors enjoyed the sense of nostalgia they gained from the exhibition, another third talked about increased feelings of well being and civic pride as a result of their visit. Over two thirds of our visitors discussed their increased knowledge/reaffirmation of the importance of the archive. Twenty three percent of our visitors didnt previously know about the existence of our television archives, and said that they now realised its value.

What were our visitors saying:

About Coventry:

“Lovely to hear presenter say this ‘beautiful city’!”
“We were more multi national than I ever knew. Never realized that people moved from all over to find work in Coventry. Younger people should see this archive to see the struggles this city has been through”
“I really enjoyed my visit. I only intended to stay for a short time but stayed for about three hours!!”
“It is good to see the uni taking interest in Cov. Coventry should do more”
“We are all equal. We are what we are” (A homeless man who came in several times)
“Its made me feel more connected to the place of my birth”
“I feel like I know a bit more about Coventry. I have been living here for four years but it hasn’t been easy to establish a connection with the city. I really enjoy chances to know more about it”
“As a visitor to the city, it was fascinating to see its image and reputation explored and challenged by its own ‘historic’ inhabitants”
“I’m new to Coventry, so have no preconceived ideas about it. But the footage makes me like it more”
“I had a feeling of nostalgia from watching the archives even though I didn’t live in the city for most of the period covered, and I’m not from Coventry! It’s made me feel pride in the city which wasn’t there before. I have to admit I have struggled in the past to feel love or passion for Coventry – this has inspired it!!”
“This has enhanced a sense of pride and hope for the future”
“This taught me things I’d not known about Coventry even though I have lived here for 39 years”

About the archive

“As a junior creative I constantly search for inspiration and reference and I feel this is an ideal place to do so”
“[The TV archive] gives a feel of the mood of the city as a whole”
“This is a fabulous resource – thank you for sharing it with us”
“Television archive is very important as it mirrors actual people [and] events without it being sanitized by history books”
“It’s a history of Coventry but also TV. The latter is so everyday and throwaway, so its good to be reminded of the little gems it contains”
“It’s so important to know that this archive exists and can be opened to the Public”
“I have always believed in the importance of preserving our past and cultural heritage and the exhibition was a lovely reminder of the reasons why”
“To me, [the archive programmes] are a time capsule in Coventry’s history”
“I probably haven’t valued television archives much, and certainly not given it much thought. Being able to view the history of the city today from ‘everyday’ TV broadcasts has changed my perspective”
“This is a vital event to help the present and future people of the city”
“My Dad saw similar footage at the Herbert’s exhibition about the Blitz over 15 years ago and he actually spoke for the first time about his [wartime] experiences”
“I think it is very important as today I’ve had the chance to share the city’s past with my 5 year old”


Monday 16th April

General admission 10-2

2-4.30pm: Ghost Town: Community Engagement with Archives workshop (with Joanne Garde Hansen (University of Warwick and Clare Watson (MACE) N.B. Please sign up for this event via Exhibition closed to the public.

6.30-9pm: Remembering Coventry: Ghost Town Haunting #1 – Launch event (by invitation only. Exhibition closed to the public.

Tuesday 17th April

General admission 10-4.30

10am-12pm: Caludon Castle School GCSE Photography visiting

4.30-6pm: Humanities Teach Meet – a meeting for teachers of the humanities to explore the exhibition and curriculum development around the project Please sign up for this event via Exhibition closed to the public.

Wednesday 18th April

General admission 10-4.30

9-11am: Caludon Castle School A Level Media visiting

4.30-6pm: Arts/Media Teach Meet – a meeting for teachers of the arts/media to explore the exhibition and curriculum development around the project Please sign up for this event via Exhibition closed to the public.

Thursday 19th April

General admission 10-6

Friday 20th April

General admission 12-6

10-12pm: FWT’s Women’s Wellbeing Coffee Morning. Exhibition closed to the public.

Saturday 21st April

General admission 10-6

2-4pm: Family session – come down to the exhibition to explore Coventry’s local history. Curators from the Herbert will be on hand with objects from their collection which explain and expand on the stories told in our exhibition. Admission free – all welcome and no need to book

Sunday 22nd April

General admission 10-4

1975 TV report

Library TV