re:connaissance was a one-year project which re-interpreted, through visual art and oral history, the wartime stories of Belper and the wider Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site, as well as unearthing memories and memorabilia. Dee Shiels, a visual artist, interviewed a number of older people with memories of World War II in Belper and the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site, and some people who were evacuated to Belper from Southend-on-Sea. For the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site Discovery Days in 2009 an artist’s installation was set in the doorway of one of the air-raid shelters under Belper’s Memorial Gardens.
Workshops were held at local schools, to help local school children understand the impact of WWII on their town.
Dee Shiels also put together three “Make Do & Mend” educational packs, which are now available to schools, museums and other community groups to use for a small fee. These resources came directly out of the research and the practical activities in schools. They each contain general publications (e.g. facsimiles of WW2 Ministry information publications, such as Mrs Sew-and-Sew) and local information, notes for teachers and where additional information can be found on the website (e.g. the transcripts), as well as three Make Do & Mend practical activities (including examples, some equipment and sources of materials) and the activities are reflected in the bags/suitcase:
- A blackout-cloth and patchwork replica of a sewing bag (entirely made out of re-used fabrics, wood, etc.), with activities based around darning
- A vintage suitcase, which also makes reference to evacuees name-tag labels and to those evacuees who travelled without suitcases, with a suggested activity of parcel-wrapping with just paper and string and where the main activity is peg-rugging
- A knitted squares bag, where the handles are made of 2 pairs of giant knitting needles, to encourage a different approach to knitting as well as the more normal scale and refers to WW2 era practice (recommended by Mrs Sew-and-Sew) of unravelling old jumpers to use the wool to re-knit again.
An audio CD compilation (for use on computer) of some of the recordings is in each box and the transcripts of interviews available at http://reconnaissancedvm.weebly.com/.
re:connaissance finished in March 2010. It was organised by a partnership, working together as Derwent Valley Arts, which includes representatives from Derbyshire County Council, Amber Valley Borough Council, Derbyshire Dales District Council, Derby City Council, the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site, and local independent arts development organisations, including Fleet Arts and QUAD. Fleet Arts managed the project, which was funded by the Museums, Libraries & Archives Council, the Big Lottery and Derbyshire County Council.
For more information or to borrow the resources for a small fee, please contact Gwen Wilson, Derwent Valley Mills Team, 01629 536831.