AHRC Connected Communities Festival Event: Global Cotton Connections: creative reflections – Feedback Summary

A range of feedback was collected at the AHRC Connected Communities Festival events associated with the Global Cotton Connections project held at Cromford and Belper Mills on 20th June 2015.

Community participants

Firstly written feedback was gathered from 44 of around 55 community participants brought to the Festival events from Nottingham and Sheffield (21 responses from Nottingham group; 23 responses from Sheffield group). Of these 14 (32%) (5 Nottingham; 9 Sheffield) had not visited Cromford Mills before and 20 (45%) had never previously been to Belper North Mill Museum. The feedback form included 5 open questions. S refers to Sheffield and N to Nottingham participant comments.

Most liked aspects

The most liked aspects of the day were the mill tours (15 mentions): “Story tellings at both mills” (S); “The guided tour at Belper” (S); “Having a tour round the mills” (S); “Cromford Mill discussion and Tour” (N). One Nottingham participant who had previously been on a tour highlighted:

  • “The tours in both venues were much improved and very informative. I enjoyed the tour guide’s info at the Arkwright site and the visit inside a Strutt family house in Belper.”

Participants also liked the opportunities to participate, share and meet people (13 mentions): “Sharing of legacy” (S); “Engagement with others of like mind … Sharing ideas and concepts” (N); “Walking around together. … Mixing with new interesting people. Happy atmosphere (S)”; “Being part of the trip & on the friendly bus” (S):

  • “Being able to show the film and tell the people about the cotton connection” (N)
  • “Visiting Cromford Mill with the Slave Trade Legacies Family” (N)
  • “Seeing the positive improvement our project has given to the future presentations of the mill” (N).

The poetry &/or film sessions (11 mentions) were also popular: “Live poetry” (S); “The morning’s poetry, film + talks” (S); “the video because it was inclusive and informative” (N):

  • “Seeing the other project’s film and work” (S).

People also enjoyed visiting the mill sites and their environs (11 mentions): “Visiting the Mill & seeing all the machines” (N); “Walking around the Mills” (S) “Visiting the Workers House” (N); “touring around” (N).

Eight participants highlighted that they liked everything on the day: “Everything” (S); “All of it.” (S & N); “It was a good experience all together” (S). Most participants highlighted more than one aspect that they liked.

Main things gained

Participants were also asked to identify the main things they gained from the day. Most (61% or 27 out of 44), 10 from Nottingham, 17 from Sheffield, referred to gaining new knowledge of the cotton mills or cotton industry more broadly: “Information” (S); “Knowledge” (N); “Knowledge of the Cotton Mills” (S); “Learning more regarding cotton” (N). Some made particular reference to learning more about cotton connections (6 mentions):

  • “Knowledge about the mills & the cotton industry & how they affected local people & people further afield” (S)
  • “Broaden my education about the cotton mills and cotton connection” (N).

This was sometimes linked to connections between the mills and India (4 mentions): “Knowledge about cotton mills, history about cotton industry & how it was related to India” (S).

Some participants explicitly highlighted learning about cotton origins (2 mentions):

  • “Knowledge about the cotton where it comes from, how it is utilised, etc.” (S)

and the role of the slave trade (2 mentions):

  • “A positive perspective on the contribution of slavery to this [textile] industry” (N).

A number of participants (7), mostly from the Nottingham group, highlighted gains from sharing, solidarity and meeting like-minded people: “Socialising & like minded people” (N); “How reaffirming it was” (N); “We are very strong together” (N):

  • “Satisfaction & pride to be part of this project” (S)
  • “The love showed to each other in the group. Two women from Birmingham joining us.” (N).

A small number (3) felt the main gains for them were the rewards of seeing the impact of their research projects in the mill venues:

  • “Learning how the project has influenced the heritage site” (N)
  • “Seeing the accumulation of all the work done and putting it into the ‘context’ or place” (S).

Suggested improvements

In terms of suggested improvements, most related to the need for more time for the activities (8 mentions): “More time” (N); “We need more time to look around” (S); “Needed longer at each site” (S);  Much too much to take in on one day” (S); “doing more touring” (N); “I like to take more people” (N):

  • “The whole day was enjoyable, however there is so much to see that we could have spent more time at different places” (N).

A few participants highlighted a need for clearer information on the day (5 mentions) or more pre-event information (2 mentions). While printed itineraries were prepared it would appear that some, particularly from Sheffield, did not receive a copy – apologies to those people. A few participants (5), particularly from the Sheffield group, commented that the free food could have been better with more provision for vegetarian diets.

A number of participants pointed to a need for more interactive elements (8 mentions): “Historical interactions in museum” (S); “Join with other group and communicate” (S); “more interaction” (N). Suggestions included working machines:

  • “If some of the cotton machines worked for us to see” (N)
  • “it would be amazing if they was someone showing us how to use the machine practically and having a go ourselves.” (N)

and role play for children: “Role play, child friendly” (N); “Chance for children to dress up as mill workers” (S).

However, five participants felt the day needed no improvements and many made further comments related to the positive experience of the day (7 mentions) and the free provision (2 mentions):

  • “Feeling uplifted and positive about the progress made by the groups. DVM has listened to us & heard our voice” (N)
  • “Excellent day – time & effort well spent by providers and audience” (S)
  • “The entire trip including coach was free” (S).

A few suggestions (3) were made as to how to develop the initiatives further:

  • “I think it would be useful to use the video in school youth centre etc to allow more inclusivity” (N)
  • “Could be repeated for new folk to have the experience” (N)
  • “- What next? – More research into the mills ethnic workforce. – More research into Nottingham’s links with cotton. – A publication from the project.” (N)

Overall the feedback from the Sheffield and Nottingham participants was very positive and constructive. Any future events will endeavour to take the suggestions for improvements on board. Further information on the Nottingham Slave Trade Legacies group experiences can be found at
https://slavetradelegacies.wordpress.com/projects/global-cotton-connections/606-2/

Wider public

Around 25 members of the wider public (including some volunteer mill guides) attended the film and poetry events. An opportunity was given to them to comment on the events via a feedback book in the Exhibition room. Although only four written comments were made and it would have been good to have more feedback from this wider group, all were of a positive nature: “inspiring”; “excellent experience … interesting & informative”; “wanted more!”:

  • “it’s great to hear the ‘hidden’ histories”.

This feedback suggests that the Festival events had a strong appeal to visitors to Cromford and an appetite for more activities of this type.

Many thanks to all those who made written and verbal comments relating to the day. It was great to have so much positive and constructive feedback. If you have any further comments please do let us know.

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