For my placement module I chose the role of Digital/Virtual project manager at All Souls, community centre based in Crompton, outskirts of Bolton; the organization aims to strengthen the community spirit in Bolton carrying out different projects related to the city’s heritage and history. Its location is really impressive as it stands in a beautiful Gothic building that used to be a church.
I was really excited to start my placement and I had never visited Bolton before! My role changed throughout the placement as I got assigned an oral history project that I carried out together with two other students from the University of Manchester. In order to get the community involved in the project we visited different places around Bolton. They include the Museum, the library, the Bolton market, the town hall, the University of Bolton, a few local schools, international and charity shops and different community spaces. This helped us build contacts around the city and collect stories from various members of the community.
The focus of our project was to collect stories and memories about Bolton Market, that many people in Bolton consider the heart of the city. Boltonians also seem to be very attached to the Bolton Market Hall, old Victorian market that has been refurbished in the 80s to become the existing Market Place Shopping Centre. There is a strong sense of community in the city and an overall interest for cultural issues that have affected Bolton in the past and continue to be relevant today.
As a community, Boltonians are very active on social media where they exchange old photos and share stories on a daily basis. I found social networks the most efficient medium to reach the community as there is a large number of groups related to Bolton’s history and heritage. The most surprising aspect of the project has been the large amount of messages that I received from locals of different ages who volunteered to share their stories using social media. When I asked questions about the market more than fifty people expressed their thoughts on the old market’s cultural changes, sharing stories from their childhood, memories of old relatives, sending photos from the 70s and 80s and anecdotes of their jobs at the old market! Our project aimed to enable locals to understand the importance of their personal history, showing that their memories count and can be presented as history in different ways.
Social media provided the means for building interesting dialogues between locals who exchanged information, compared ideas, found people they used to work with and appreciated the importance of their own history. This placement has been a very challenging experience and made me aware of the essentiality of social media as a way to get people involved in community projects, encouraging discussions about cultural issues and strengthen the sense of community in an unconventional and interesting way.