In this blog post Jo Robson, Archive Officer at Oldham Local Studies and Archives, reflects upon her experience of ‘Unboxing Oldham’, a unique archives-inspired theatre project which took place in August of this year. Over the course of a week, a group of ten young people from Oldham Theatre Workshop learned about archives, context and cataloguing through a fun combination of theatre and storytelling.

It seemed a wild idea as I had never done anything like this before, but it felt right. I wanted to engage young people with the Made in Greater Manchester project and engage them with archives.

I approached Oldham Theatre Workshop (OTW) to work in partnership on this project.  I brought my expertise as an archivist and the archives and they provided a pool of young people, organisational and theatre skills and knowledge.  It became clear that the young people were unlikely to sit for a few weeks cataloguing the archive so we created a week of activities based around archives and the stories they tell to engage them.  The end result was for them to develop and perform a drama piece before staff, family and friends on the final afternoon.  Some of my highlights include:

  • The Magna Carter and the Recording of the 2012 Olympic Games Opening Ceremony having a chat on a bus stop, a brilliant imagining of the conversation between these two archives by the young people.
  • The afternoon where our regular older volunteers came in and had great fun in groups with the young people creating a character from a bag of props. There was lively discussion and much laughter.
  • Our visit to Quarry Bank Mill where I got very excited about seeing the leather covered rollers in action – our archive collection for MIGM is Clegg and Mellor, Leather Roller Coverers of Werneth Lodge, Oldham.
  • The enthusiasm, imagination and professionalism of the young people as they took inspiration from the archives and our trip to produce the final theatre piece.

I was so proud on the final afternoon when everyone’s hard work resulted in a polished final performance in front of an invited audience. Throughout the week we undertook evaluation with all those that took part in Unboxing Oldham.  What we have learnt will be weaved into future projects and I have a hope that we will repeat something similar in the near future with a different archive collection.