The Tower Ballroom, Birmingham. © Iriz Bertz
The Tower Ballroom, Birmingham. © Iriz Bertz

New Funding to Uncover and Celebrate Working Class Heritage

The untold stories of a bacon factory in Wiltshire, a Grade II listed former rhubarb farm in Leeds’ ‘Rhubarb Triangle’, and the tradition of pigeon racing in North Yorkshire are among 56 new projects that Historic England will be funding across the next 2 years to celebrate working class histories through its Everyday Heritage Grant programme.

Historic England received over 380 applications and has chosen to fund 56 community-led projects that will explore diverse stories of people and places at the heart of English history. The total amount of funding awarded by Historic England will be £875,000, ranging from £6,800 to £25,000 per individual project.

What is the Everyday Heritage Grant programme?

Historic England’s Everyday Heritage Grant programme aims to shine a light on the diversity of our heritage and is part of Historic England’s commitment to ensuring that a wider range of people are able to connect with, enjoy and benefit from the historic environment.

Wherever people live, they are surrounded by historic buildings, landscapes and streets, industrial or coastal heritage. Everyday Heritage Grant projects allow people of all ages to explore these valued local places and celebrate their ‘everyday’ shared heritage.

The new projects will reveal and celebrate fascinating, untold stories across England, from exploring and documenting the untold histories of St Agnes Place in Kennington (a street central to the Rastafari community and since the 1980s locally known as House of Dread) to creating an interactive walking trail marking the 70 year history of the Leicester Caribbean Cricket and Social Club, and looking at the working class history of drag in the “Pink Triangle”, also known as the Gay Village area of Newcastle.

Encouraging people to engage with their local heritage, these projects will support them to tell their own stories, in their own way, and to connect with others in their local communities.

There are so many hidden histories to uncover here in England. Every community has a story to tell and we want to hear them. This is the strength of our Everyday Heritage grant programme, which funds projects that are community-led and really engage with local people by empowering them to research and tell their own stories. I’m excited to learn more about these fascinating projects as they shine an important light on our working class heritage.
Duncan Wilson, Chief Executive Historic England

Projects being funded by the Everyday Heritage Grant programme

Launched in 2022, the Everyday Heritage Grant programme has already funded 57 projects across England.

Historic England is now funding 56 new projects across the nation telling the stories of working class heritage, examples of which can be seen below.

Gypsy and Traveller Tales in Greensand Country | Full House Theatre | Bedfordshire

This project is centred around co-creating a touring exhibition that tells the story of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) communities living in Greensand Country, in Central Bedfordshire. Full House is a child-focused charity and arts organisation based in the heart of Greensand Country. The 12 month project will take place on 3 local sites, where children and families from GRT communities will create content alongside visiting artists, forming a body of work to share with the public. Listening to the voices of communities is at the centre of Full House’s co-creation process. In the early stages of the process, they will spend time with GRT families to identify artists they would like to collaborate with. This will be an important part of developing effective creative partnerships so that communities can share the stories they want to tell. The final output will be an exhibition, co-created and curated with participants, that will tour 3 local libraries.

C&T Harris Bacon Factory Oral Histories | Yesterday’s Story | Calne, Wiltshire

Revealing the stories of those who worked at the C&T Harris Bacon Factory, this project will work with former employees to create an archive of oral history exploring these factory workers' work, life and friendships. Operating for over 200 years, the C&T Harris Bacon Factory opened in the 1770s and was demolished in the 1980s. The project will be led by Yesterday's Story, supported by the volunteers of Calne Heritage Centre and archived at the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre.

Volunteers will collect oral histories from the former workers and present them to the local community in an accessible way. Despite the factory no longer existing, it was a massive part of Calne's identity and is still renowned today. Yesterday's Story wants to capture the history of those who worked at the factory before their stories are lost forever.

Rolling at the Tower Ballroom | Bertz Associates | Birmingham

This project aims to create a community documentary about the history of roller skating in Birmingham, a history that started in 1871 with the building of the Tower Ballroom at the Edgbaston Reservoir in Ladywood.

The venue hosted skating until its final closure in 2017. The Tower was recently demolished to make space for new flats, and people locally feel redevelopment in Ladywood is threatening to erase its strong working class history. The area has been working-class since Victorian times and to this day has a high level of social housing. It’s one of the city's youngest and most diverse areas, where many newly arrived people get placed.

The project will focus on the history of roller skating at the Tower Ballroom as a lens to tell the story of ordinary people and will culminate in the creation of a short documentary film. This will be led by community researcher and Skater Empress Gibbs, and directed by Yonatan Tiruneh, who grew up in Ladywood. The film will be launched at a screening at the Midlands Art Centre in Cannon Hill Park, now home to a lively and active community of skaters.

The Lost City of Cardboard: A Homelessness Heritage Project | The Bridge At Waterloo | London

Cardboard City, a makeshift encampment made from hundreds of cardboard boxes in the underpasses between Waterloo Station and the South Bank, sheltered thousands of rough sleepers over 20 years in the 1980s and 1990s.

As public consciousness of Cardboard City begins to fade, and many of those who lived there are in poor health or have since died, St John's Waterloo and The Bridge At Waterloo are working to remember and memorialise this history and the ephemeral and neglected heritage of homeless people in the area. Led by artists and people who have experienced homelessness, this project will sensitively engage with individuals who lived in Cardboard City, those who supported its inhabitants, and local residents. Participants will shape the project's outcomes, involving research and documentation of narratives, individuals and objects linked to Cardboard City.

Parker Pens: The Working Class Oral Histories of Newhaven Town | Press Play Films | East Sussex

Press Play Films will bring together different generations to record community oral histories and create short stop-motion animations in clay to uncover the rich working class history of Newhaven's renowned Parker Pen factory. Having started life in a few ex-army huts, it gradually became one of Europe's largest and most technically advanced pen factories. The once-thriving site had a 1,200-strong workforce, but after gradual dismantling, the factory was demolished in 2014. The project will encourage intergenerational understanding of Newhaven's community heritage and industrial past, with pupils involved in interviewing people who worked at the factory before these memories disappear. The project will involve ex-Parker employees, local primary and secondary school students, Newhaven Museum volunteers, Hillcrest community centre and the town's wider community.

Pink Triangles and Purple Circles: Working-Class Histories of Drag in Newcastle’s Pink Triangle | LGBT+ Northern Social Group | Newcastle

LGBT+ Northern Social Group (NSG) defines drag as performance that explores, plays with or challenges traditional presentations, expressions of and ideas about gender. This project will examine the working class history of drag in the “Pink Triangle”, also known as the Gay Village area of Newcastle. Framing drag as a folk art with roots in Musical Hall “dandy”/ “fop” performers and 20th-century drag in working men’s clubs, up to the contemporary DIY drag scene. The volunteer-led LGBTQIA+ NSG group includes around 2,600 members from the North East of England. It will promote and coordinate community workshops to encourage members to conduct personal research and creative activities building towards final outcomes, including online and in-person elements, such as an online exhibition and live drag performances.

40 Years, 40 Stories: The Everyday Heritage of People Working in London’s Chinatown (1985 to 2025) | China Exchange | London

This project will record and celebrate the hidden stories of people working in Chinatown from 1985, when this part of the West End was officially designated as London’s Chinatown. The area is home to over 150 businesses and a place of work for thousands of ethnically, culturally, linguistically and socially diverse Londoners. However, the history of work and workers in Chinatown is often overlooked and under-represented. China Exchange will explore, reveal and share stories of everyday working lives in Chinatown over the past 40 years, facilitating community-building and advocating for a more nuanced and inclusive understanding of the neighbourhood. The project will be shaped by participants and will include recorded short and long-form interviews.

Rhubarb, Rhubarb… | The Conservation Volunteers | Leeds

The Grade II listed Hollybush Farm located in Leeds' 'Rhubarb Triangle' is home to The Conservation Volunteers (TCV), a charity dedicated to restoring, protecting and connecting people to nature. Hollybush Farm, a former rhubarb farm, now thrives as a conservation and wellbeing centre. Shaped by the community and for the community, TCV want to share Hollybush's history with others.

TCV's community previously worked on an oral history project to commemorate 40 years of involvement at Hollybush. The earlier project and the desire to explore the site's heritage further have led to the development of the 'Rhubarb, Rhubarb…' project. Potential outputs for 'Rhubarb, Rhubarb…' include building a new rhubarb forcing shed, growing fresh produce, and installing an interpretation that tells Hollybush's history.

'On a Wing and a Prayer' aims to showcase the unique heritage and hidden histories of the Skinningrove community through the stories of its pigeon fanciers. Pigeon racing is a sport with deep roots in traditional industrial working class communities like Skinningrove. This project, led by local artist Joanne Coates, will see Joanne collaborate with participants from the rural community to celebrate their industrial heritage and working class traditions by using photography, vernacular archive and sound work. As part of this project, the community will create a new village trail and host a public event that will see remaining pigeon fanciers sharing their experiences.

Exploring the former site and surroundings of the legendary Quadrant Park nightclub, 'Queue Up And Dance' aims to uncover the histories of working class life, labour and leisure in Bootle in the 1980s and 1990s.

The club was demolished in 1992, and with nothing at the site hinting at its history, the legacy of Quadrant Park is in danger of being lost. Rule of Threes Arts is a locally-rooted arts organisation that supports communities in making creative projects about what matters to them. Working in partnership with Sefton Libraries and artists Dave Evans and Melissa Kains, the project brings together those who frequented the club in the 1980s and 1990s and young people living in Bootle today, creating intergenerational links and engaging people in Bootle's local heritage. The project will share their discoveries online, in an exhibition, and through an event that will be a key moment in Sefton's Borough of Culture 2025.

This project will see students from primary schools in Jarrow come together to explore South Tyneside's rich coastal history at the historic Grade II listed South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade (SSVLB) Watch House. Volunteers from this community group have been saving lives along the South Shields coastline for over 150 years.

In May, a group of young people from the local area will spend 5 days at the SSVLB headquarters, engaging with the site's history through workshops and activities. These will include taking the SSVLB's life-saving equipment from the late 1800s onto the beach to stage their own rescue mission, exploring archive materials from the Parliamentary Archives, and using drama, music and art to creatively explore and engage with the artefacts found in the Watch House. They will co-create a final performance and exhibition to share their discoveries and experiences of the project with their teachers, peers, parents, and the wider public.

To celebrate the 70 year history of the Leicester Caribbean Cricket and Social Club, this project aims to create an interactive walking trail with up to 10 plaques placed at sites around the city significant to the club. QR codes on the plaques will link to filmed oral history videos on a newly developed website alongside historical images and interview transcripts. A local historian familiar with the Caribbean community will conduct interviews with long-time club members to create short-form videos focused on themes like founding stories, sporting triumphs, community events, and personal memories.

These plaques will appear at locations like the longstanding clubhouse on Ethel Road. Members' stories will spotlight how the club nurtured Caribbean fellowship and activism from its founding in 1957 to today. This project will preserve the living heritage of this important community institution and make it accessible through interactive technology. Club members, especially younger members, will feel pride in their legacy and the wider Leicester community will gain insight into Caribbean and South Asian experiences and the club's role in building cross-cultural bonds.

This project will focus on uncovering and preserving the diverse heritage of South Asian Communities on Abel Street, Burnley. Through research, interviews and collaboration with community members, cultural producer Rizwan Iqbal and fellow artists will gather materials that reflect the unique cultural experiences of the South Asian community in Burnley. They will work with the local community to delve into various aspects of their heritage, including migration stories, cultural traditions and work experiences to produce events and exhibitions that showcase Abel Street’s overlooked working-class heritage. Salaam Festival leads this project and will work in partnership with Enterprising Habits, The Chai Centre, Great Places Social Housing and Age Concern.