• The War in Plymouth: Destruction and a New Beginning

    Today we are delighted to be able to announce the award of  Heritage Lottery Fund grant for our oral history of Plymouth during the war and the ten years of social housing which followed it.

    Plymouth was damaged very badly during the Blitz, with 4,000 homes being lost in the bombing. But during the ten years of reconstruction between 1945 and 1955, 17,000 new homes were built in the City, creating new neighbourhoods such as Efford and Southway. This oral history project, lasting 18 months, will gather as many interviews as possible with Plymouth residents who remember the period, and will culminate with a series of exhibitions, a permanent online archive of all of the interviews and a book summarising the findings.

    Simon Petherick, head of The Word Machine CIC, says: “We are thrilled to have received the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund. We are keen now to hear from families and individuals in Plymouth who would like to take part in the project. We want this to be a comprehensive account of Plymouth residents’ experience of war and its aftermath, and how that experience shaped our city.”

    The project will be guided by Plymouth University’s Professor of Contemporary History Kevin Jefferys and his second-year History students.

    Plymouth residents who recall the war years and the ten years of social rehousing are encouraged to contact The Word Machine CIC to have their name added to the list of interviewees. Any Plymouth residents who would like to be trained in order to carry out some of the interviews over the next 18 months should contact The Word Machine CIC too.

    If you would like to join the project either by being interviewed about your memories of Plymouth at the time, or by becoming one of our citizen interviewers, then please contact us on simon@thewordmachine.org. Or join our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/TheWarInPlymouth or find us on Twitter @wordmachinecic.


    1. The Word Machine Community Interest Company is a new social enterprise based in Plymouth which aims to work with local people to enable them to realise and release their stories.

    2. The project will work closely with Plymouth University, Plymouth and West Devon Record Office and Plymouth Museum.

    3. The project will work with Plymouth social enterprise FotoNow (www.fotonow.org) to create a simultaneous photographic record of the participants.

    4. About the Heritage Lottery Fund

    Using money raised through the National Lottery, the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) aims to make a lasting difference for heritage, people and communities across the UK and help build a resilient heritage economy. From museums, parks and historic places to archaeology, natural environment and cultural traditions, we invest in every part of our diverse heritage. HLF has supported almost 35,000 projects with more than £5.3bn across the UK. www.hlf.org.uk.

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  • City of Culture 2017 #Plymouth2017

    There’s a lot of activity around Plymouth’s bid for City of Culture status in 2017. I’m absolutely in support of it, and hope that whoever is putting our bid together will be successful. There have been some interesting posts and comments in support of it, particularly recently from YonYonson here, talking about work and activities taking place in different parts of Plymouth. The City of Culture status would give us a great opportunity to profile and boost all the truly talented and exciting schemes which are already underway. In no particular order, here’s my wishlist for the bid:

    Make the most of the library. libraryI used to love Plymouth library when I was growing up, and even though the staff there now are excellent and helpful, it’s an institution which could benefit from some love and attention. If we could make the library the true home of writing in Plymouth, open it in the evenings for readings and writers’ groups, bring in a cafe or a bar to make it a genuinely social place, it could be transformed. With the decline of bookshops and the continued growth of internet buying, there are less and less places for people to gather and browse books and generally think about books. Let’s get rid of all our conceptions of what a library should be, and turn Plymouth Library into the model of a new community-based literary hub, accessible to everyone night and day. If that means taking it out of direct council ownership, then so be it.

    Create a new community space for artists in all fields to use, with room for dance and theatre rehearsals, painters’ studios, musicians rehearsal rooms and recording suites, photographic studios. There are fine theatre and arts institutions in Plymouth, but this would be one to be run by and used by the community itself, not by professional arts administrators. Take a look at the entrepreneurial activities already of Plymouth artists. Vince Lee’s Plymouth Blues Society has its inaugural gig on 7th June and is a great example of collaborative thinking. The Beat Breakers dance group bring their hi energy talents to the Theatre Royal in May. Tribe magazine continues to bring new work by Plymouth artists to an international audience. What links all three of these is that they are artist-led developments. Let’s use City of Culture to celebrate this entrepreneurial spirit by making a permanent base for artists to use and control themselves. (It’s not as though we haven’t got quite a few empty iconic buildings in the centre of town…) The investment in fitting it out would easily be recouped over the long term from the artistic outputs that it generated.

    Bring the sea into the heart of our culture. The quaint new pub sign which the Council has put up celebrating Plymouth as Britain’s Ocean City is all well and good, but I’m not sure what it means. We need to drag the sea into the city, develop the shorefront so that it’s as busy as it used to be when I was growing up, when the rocks and huts at the front were filled with families spending the whole day there with picnic lunches. The Terrace Cafe on the seafront does a wonderful job of combining the perfect view with music and performance, but it and the rest of the shorefront needs the city to physically spend more time there. How about compulsorily purchasing back Drake’s Island and putting in a permanent boat connection and making the island a modern centre of water sports excellence? The wonderful Moby Dick Big Read project spearheaded by the University is a great example of how the sea can inform our culture here.

    Develop an annual Plymouth festival which is run by Plymouth business people – invite energetic people like The Range’s Chris Dawson to spare a bit of their hard-pressed time to give some proper business guidance, creating a financially feasible festival. A properly dynamic Plymouth festival featuring arts, sports, food and crafts could actually make money as well as giving an outlet for our artists and producers. But it would need some commercial minds to run it, because we all know there is not going to be much public money available for anything over the next few years.

    I wish our bid administrators every success in their work. Strangely, despite all the enthusiasm which there is for the bid, I’m not aware that many people know what it actually is – I certainly don’t. Can the administrators be a little more public about their ruminations and share with us all what they plan to submit? I’m sure they’d get a lot of support in return if they shared their thinking! Good luck to them anyway.