South Western Federation of Museums and Art Galleries

Blog: Developing a Project - 'Inspiring Women: The Legacy of the First World War in South Gloucestershire'

The ‘Inspiring Women: The Legacy of the First World War in South Gloucestershire’ project was created last year to mark the centenary of the Representation of the People Act. The Act was passed in 1918, the final year of the First World War, and allowed some women to vote for the first time. Funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund (NLHF), the project (run by South Gloucestershire Council) continues to the end of 2019 and explores and shares stories about South Gloucestershire’s women to celebrate their achievements today and over the last 100 years.

The project aimed to inspire women from all walks of life and to promote an understanding of the legacy and value of women’s contribution over the last 100 years and how this has influenced our lives today. It included a public engagement campaign for people to nominate inspiring women from South Gloucestershire, an exhibition including banners that celebrated the achievements of inspiring women chosen for the exhibition, a conference as part of International Women’s Day 2019, a social media campaign, class room activities, activity sessions with local school children and the creation of online resources as part of the legacy of the project.

In this blog post, Jane Marley describes how the project was created and delivered, and what was learnt from running the project:

Developing a project with clear objectives, and by involving partners, will help funding bids:

It is clear that the lives of women changed significantly both during and since the First World War up to the present day. We wanted to highlight this in the South Gloucestershire area so that the women of today could see the enormous strides that had been taken by looking at the stories of local women and that there is still some way to go.

We developed the funding bid by ensuring that the project aligned well with the NLHF criteria. It was important that we drew on previous experience of what worked locally on the Engaging Local People in South Gloucestershire with the First World War Centenary, and that we talked to partners to develop the ideas.

Working in partnership brings in extra skills, contacts and capacity:

Partners are the South Gloucestershire Museums Group, Avon Local History Association, Gloucestershire Archives, Gloucestershire Constabulary, University of Herefordshire/University of the West of England (First World War Centre, Everyday Lives in War) Gloucestershire Constabulary and Southern Brooks Community Partnerships. Museum and heritage volunteers researched their collections to nominate inspiring women. Gloucestershire Archives provided training in archiving. The University of the West of England (UWE) provided ‘in kind’ assistance with accommodation, equipment, and speakers and student helpers for the Conference that was held in March 2019 at the University.

Involving children in developing the social media pieces gave them a greater understanding of the changes to women’s rights and the achievements of inspiring women:

100 pupils from four schools attended a workshop at partner museum Aerospace Bristol. In the workshop session the young people explored how women’s rights have changed since the First World War and met inspiring local women volunteers. The young people then worked to develop social media exhibition pieces which reflected their reactions to the session and display their experiences as young women now in South Gloucestershire. The outputs were shown at the conference at UWE on International Women’s Day 8th March 2019.

Creating a conference as part of a project increases interest, learning and legacy:

The International Woman’s Day conference was organised by project partner, Southern Brooks Community Partnerships, through a steering group, on behalf of the project.

At the conference local and West of England ‘opinion formers’ were invited to hear about women who have helped shape South Gloucestershire over the last century from inspiring women volunteers and learn about the perspective of local young people on what the future should look like in group discussion. This was a great opportunity to bring key people in South Gloucestershire together to learn and share experiences and ensure the legacy from the Representation of the People Act carries on.

A public nomination process in a celebratory project is most effective when it encourages opinion and is clearly explained:

One of the main things we learnt is that when you are asking the public to engage in a project based around nominations, the invitation to nominate needs to be really clear (about the project and nominator/nominee requirements), inclusive, and not intimidating. Providing an opportunity for the nominee to be heard (through the reasons given for the nomination), made it more meaningful.

Creating an exhibition based on nominations requires a good decision making process, excellent planning, and a degree of flexibility:

Having a Review Working Party of women of different ages and backgrounds to select 26 of the nominated women from nearly 50 nominations was a really good idea. Decisions were made practically, with regard to theme and coverage of time rather than the ‘most’ inspiring women. The rationale was useful in explaining why women were selected/not selected and that one woman was not necessarily better than another. All women have been inspiring and are appreciated, so one woman should not be judged as the best. One idea to have a public vote on the most inspiring women was abandoned after discussions with partners where it was made clear that this would be an exclusive rather than an inclusive action.

We decided to split the subjects of the banners into themes. These did not work out to be the themes we had first anticipated and we had to go with those developed through the nominations, so we needed to be flexible. At the review meeting we sorted the nominations into different groups, choosing titles that suited the majority in each group.

Planning was important so that we could make reasoned selections, and to ensure the exhibition was clear, meaningful, relevant and inclusive. We wanted a timeline of national legislation that would put things in context and draw people's attention to changes that had effected them in their own lifetime - due to the themes, this has to be broadened to include individual women’s achievements at a national level. It needed to be a starting point for people to find similar information in their own areas.

We learnt that it is essential to know your venues and what they can accommodate, how to best lay out text and images (less is more!), and that context helps to unify an exhibition. Importantly, we learnt that such a project can stimulate young people into thinking about what they would like to see change for their future.

A social media campaign reaches a wider audience, and can be an essential communication tool:

Once the list of inspiring women was established, we created a weekly social media post for Facebook and Twitter for each inspiring woman. South Gloucestershire Libraries created social media posts for the recommended reading lists and when the exhibition changed venues.

The Twitter hashtag was #InspiringWomenSG
Twitter handle for South Gloucestershire Libraries: @southgloslibs

Sharing information is important for the public and the heritage sector:

The web site will be useful to schools, groups and the local heritage sector who will be able to search on nearly 50 inspiring local women under their name or by theme. Other resources are:

• a PDF or Power Point file that can be used to discuss the local women and legislation over the last 100 years
• class room activities
• learning Links
• a Women’s Equality Snakes and Ladders Game
• recommended reading lists for adults and young people

These resources will be useful for teachers as the Government has committed to making the health education and relationships education/RSE aspects of PSHE compulsory from September 2020.

Jane Marley is the Museums and Heritage Officer for South Gloucestershire Council, and the County Representative for the South West Fed. Jane’s career has involved working in museums in the South East and South West of Britain.