Project will bring hidden history into the light


newslatestA new project aims to highlight some of England’s most significant disability history, charting disabled people’s lives from the middle ages to the late 20th century.

The Accentuate History of Place project will tell the story of disabled people’s history through the design and use of historic sites from the 1100s to the late 1970s, including examples of early provision for disabled people and the first examples of purpose-built architecture.

The project will look in detail at 15 sites, which will feature on a website and in a touring exhibition.

Seven of the sites will also feature workshops that will allow local people to explore relevant archive material.

These seven include the late eighteenth century Liverpool School for the Indigent Blind;  Chiswick House, in London; The Guild of the Brave Poor Things in Bristol; and the Grove Road housing scheme, Britain’s first integrated co-operative housing development, which was opened in 1976 in Sutton-in-Ashfield, Nottinghamshire.

The project will use the buildings and associated archive material to tell the stories of some of the country’s most important heritage sites, such as medieval almshouses and the “aristocratic” asylums of the nineteenth century.

It has been developed with English Heritage (EH) and will link to EH’s new disability history website, Disability In Time and Place, which features more than 200 sites of historic importance, such as the memorial to Henry Fawcett in Vauxhall Park, London; York Retreat; and Manchester town hall, where disabled activists protested about poor access in 1986.

But the project will go further than the English Heritage website, aiming to bring the heritage sites to life and provide hands-on learning opportunities, as well as setting up the national touring exhibition.

It will also aim to engage young people across all 15 sites, using film-making, online games and mobile phone apps.

And there will be training opportunities for heritage volunteers and staff, offering low-cost solutions for making heritage sites and events more accessible.

Accentuate has secured more than £75,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund to develop the project, and hopes to submit a bid for another £800,000 at a later stage.

Esther Fox, Accentuate’s programme executive, pointed to Grove Road, Chiswick House, and Liverpool School for the Indigent Blind as the three sites that intrigued her most.

She said Grove Road was “truly groundbreaking”. It was designed in the 1970s by the disabled activists Ken and Maggie Davis, and “came about at a pivotal moment in the story in the fight for independent living, which is particularly pertinent in today’s landscape of cuts to the Independent Living Fund”.

She also picked Chiswick House, because it is “such an evocative space and when you move around the grounds you can almost hear the voices of the individuals who lived there whilst it was a private asylum, which is the little-known history of this stately home”.

And she picked out the Liverpool school because Edward Rushton, its founder, “was such an extraordinary man”.

She said: “He is better known for his role in the abolitionist movement but he also was a huge campaigner for disabled people and I’m interested in how you can campaign for multiple causes and have multiple interests and facets  to your identity.”

Fox said Accentuate was delighted with the lottery funding.

She said: “Post the Paraylmpic Games we are more aware of the history of disabled sportspeople, we have also seen projects which have supported disabled artists, but this is the first time that we can investigate the broad historic context of the lives of disabled people though building design and usage and understand that disabled people have been actively part of society from the medieval times to the present day.

“We want to ensure that this relatively hidden history is known by the wider public.”

Accentuate was originally the south-east legacy programme for the Paralympics, and is part of Screen South, and works to challenge perceptions of disability by creating opportunities for disabled people in the cultural sector.

12 June 2014