AHRC Connected Communities Festival Event 20 June 2015: Global Cotton Connections: creative reflections – Part I

The setting

The Arts and Humanities Research Council Connected Communities Festival fortnight provided an excellent opportunity to bring the work of the Global Cotton Connections project, particularly that undertaken by its associated community groups, to the historic mill venue of Cromford Mills, Derbyshire, part of the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site. So on Saturday 20th June 2015, the Nottingham Slave Trade Legacies group, facilitated by Bright Ideas Nottingham, and the Sheffield Hindu Samaj heritage group came to Cromford to share and celebrate key creative outputs arising from their involvement in the Global Cotton Connections project.

Poster ppt

The events were publicised at Cromford and Belper Mills and virtually by a number of organisations, including the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site, The Arkwright Society and Derbyshire Record Office, as well as the Global Cotton Connections project itself and its associated community groups.

The day involved the Nottingham Slave Trade Legacies and Sheffield Hindu Samaj heritage groups, together with the Global Cotton Connections project, hosting three events open to the public at Richard Arkwright’s Cromford Mills. Each session lasted just under an hour and started at 10am, 12noon and 2pm.

The day involved the Nottingham Slave Trade Legacies and Sheffield Hindu Samaj heritage groups, together with the Global Cotton Connections project, hosting three events open to the public at Richard Arkwright’s Cromford Mills. Each session lasted just under an hour and started at 10am, 12noon and 2pm.

Entrance to Exhibition room with banner 2

The new Global Cotton Connections project banner outside the Exhibition room at Cromford

The venue was the Exhibition room at Cromford Mills, kindly made available to us by The Arkwright Society. This room also hosts displays relating to the history of Cromford Mills and is the starting point of Mill tours. A banner highlighting the overall work of the Global Cotton Connections project was prepared especially for the day and placed at the Exhibition room entrance.

This banner is now available for use by all those involved in the project. Please contact Susanne Seymour if you want to borrow it.

A wider group of people from the local cities of Nottingham and Sheffield and associated with the Nottingham Slave Trade Legacies and Sheffield Hindu Samaj heritage groups also signed up for a whole day trip to attend the events and undertake further activities at Cromford Mills and Belper North Mill Trust museum. These included free guided tours of Cromford Mills and the Belper North Mill Trust Museum. The people of Sheffield and Nottingham came to the Derwent Valley for the day!

The film and poetry events and the Global Cotton Connections project

Each of the advertised events, lasting just under an hour, included a brief introduction to the Global Cotton Connections project, a showing and discussion of the Nottingham Slave Trade Legacies group film and poetry readings from the Sheffield Hindu Samaj heritage group.

Susanne Seymour (University of Nottingham), lead coordinator of the Global Cotton Connections project, welcomed the audience and gave a short introduction to the project activities and to the forthcoming presentations by the community-based groups.

Historical research banner vertical

Poster showing historical connections of Strutt family’s cotton business with slavery

In her introduction to the project she highlighted various items in the room available for the public to browse throughout the day or to take away with them. Alongside the new project banner and the poster prepared by the Sheffield Hindu Samaj group on their research on the British Raj in the Peak District and cotton, she drew attention to a poster outlining the project’s historical work on the slavery connections of Strutt family of Belper. An earlier version of this poster was presented at an international conference on The Business of Slavery organised by the University of Nottingham’s Institute for the Study of Slavery in September 2014.

Film Show: Global Cotton Connections: Unravelling the Threads of Slavery

The Nottingham Slave Trade Legacies group and Bright Ideas Nottingham hosted a showing of their short film, Global Cotton Connections: Unravelling the Threads of Slavery, produced as part of the Global Cotton Connections project.

Film showing - Veronica Barnes

Audience watching one of the film showings, with Slave Trade Legacies group member Veronica Barnes on film

This thought-provoking film reflects on the learning journey of the group as they came to know more about cotton histories and the connections to the slave trade and their experiences of how such histories are presented  in the Derwent Valley mills. The film focuses centrally on the perspectives and experiences of the Slave Trade Legacies group members, particularly in terms of their encounters with cotton mill heritage venues in the Derwent Valley.

Film showing - Mark Suggitt

Mark Suggitt speaking on the film

Film showing - led by Clive Henry

Nottingham Slave Trade Legacies group member, Clive Henry, introducing the film, with Lisa Robinson from Bright Ideas Nottingham

It also includes historical perspectives on slavery and the Strutt family’s cotton supplies and interviews with Mark Suggitt, Director of the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site, and Dr Susanne Seymour (University of Nottingham) as lead coordinator of the Global Cotton Connections project.

Different members of the Slave Trade Legacies group introduced the film, reflecting on their experiences of making it.

There was also time for some questions from the audience.

Earlier versions of the film had been shown in Nottingham in March and April 2015, but the Festival premiered the final edited version.

A free copy of the final film, can be accessed directly on Youtube:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b2QmVmXqP6g

We all hope it will be shown more widely in cotton mill heritage venues in the Derwent Valley and further afield.

Poetry reading: British Raj in the Peak District: Threads of Connection

As their contribution to the events the Sheffield Hindu Samaj heritage group hosted poetry readings from their new collection, British Raj in the Peak District: Threads of Connection, which was launched at the Connected Communities Festival on 20 June.

Front cover Poetry Collection

The volume includes 26 poems written by 15 different contributors and reflects on the group’s activities in their Heritage Lottery Funded project, British Raj in the Peak District, as well as the Global Cotton Connections project.

The editor of the collection, Debjani Chatterjee, introduced the poetry readings and various members of the Sheffield Hindu Samaj group read their own contributions. Many of the poems had been prepared during a series of poetry writing workshops in summer 2014 led by Debjani and funded by the Global Cotton Connections project.

2261 Debjani reading her poem

Sheffield Hindu Samaj member, Debjani Chatterjee, reading her poem, Masson Mill, one of three contributions she made to the collection. Photograph supplied by Debjani Chatterjee

2265 Dr Marium Nesha reading

Dr Marium Nesha, another member of the Sheffield Hindu Samaj, reading to the audience her poem, Derbyshire Path. Photograph supplied by Debjani Chatterjee

2260 Geoff Roberts reading

Geoff Roberts, also from the Sheffield Hindu Samaj, reading his contribution to the collection, aptly titled, Arkwright. Photograph supplied by Debjani Chatterjee

2274 Esme reading

Dr Esme Cleall, the Global Cotton Connections coordinator from the University of Sheffield, reading her poem included in the collection, also entitled, Arkwright. Photograph supplied by Debjani Chatterjee

Debjani answering audience questions

The group also fielded questions from the audience, each of whom received a free copy of the poetry collection.

2268 Hindu Samaj poster at Cromford Mill rotate

Photography supplied by Debjani Chatterjee

In her introduction to the poetry readings Debjani Chatterjee also outlined the wider activities of the Sheffield Hindu Samaj heritage group, undertaken as part of their HLF project and the Global Cotton Connections collaboration. Key highlights of these have been made into a poster specially prepared for the Festival event. A framed copy of the poster has also been made for permanent display in the Sheffield Hindu Samaj premises in Sheffield so all members can see and celebrate their research.

Audiences

2255 Audience at Cromford

Photograph provided by Debjani Chatterjee

Audiences were buoyant at all three performances and included about 25 people of mainly Hindu and Indian heritage background and around 30 of mainly African Caribbean heritage brought to the events from Sheffield and Nottingham respectively. In addition around 25 members of the general public, including some of the volunteer guides based at Cromford and Belper mills, attended the events.

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