Seeking a unique, multi-disciplinary arts organisation for my work placement, I was delighted to become Arts Assistant to Waterside Arts Centre in Sale. Primarily a touring venue for theatre, music, art exhibitions and comedy, Waterside offers a variety of programming for all ages and interests. In recent years, Waterside has taken a particular focus on animation, presenting several wildly successful animation exhibitions, as well as developing a handful of seminars and workshops for creative professionals and artists.
Greater Manchester plays a key role as a centre of animation in the UK. It is home to some of the animation greats, including Mackinnon & Saunders and Cosgrove Hall Films. Cosgrove Hall were makers of beloved animated TV shows including Danger Mouse, The BFG, Count Duckula and The Wind in the Willows, along with many others. After over 40 years of producing these animation classics, Cosgrove Hall closed their Chorlton-based studios for good in 2011, leaving behind not only an incredible television legacy, but also a treasure trove of original puppets, costumes, props and other objects. For years, these objects have been boxed away in a warehouse, just waiting for their contents to be unearthed and their stories to be told again.
However, the archive is now facing a precarious situation, as it can no longer occupy its current storage facility after July of this year. This means these objects risk becoming completely displaced, damaged, separated or all together lost if an alternative can’t be found. This is why the Waterside is currently working to secure funding from Heritage Lottery Fund to take on the Cosgrove Hall archive in order to properly preserve it for future generations to enjoy.
Along with the conservation and archiving efforts, Waterside is also proposing an exhibition, called Animation City, that will showcase the characters, artwork, costumes and props from the archive, as well as present the history of animation in the North West, to take place this Fall.
This project has been full of discoveries for me. Although as an American I was not personally familiar with the Cosgrove Hall television programmes at the start of this project, I thoroughly enjoyed uncovering a lovely piece of British cultural heritage. As part of our lead up to applying to HLF, we consulted with the public to gauge their level of interest in this project, and the response has been astounding. Across the board, every person I’ve spoken to about Cosgrove Hall has instantly lit up with childlike joy, quick to rely to me their favourite series, characters, or memories. The stories Cosgrove Hall Films told spoke to audiences from all walks of life, and there has been an amazing outpouring of enthusiasm and support for our project efforts. This has helped me to rediscover my initial passion for connecting with visitors, listening to individuals’ opinions and concerns, and recognising the immense impact the arts can have on people’s lives. Sometimes working behind the scenes, you can start to feel removed from that first-hand visitor experience. This work placement has allowed me to appreciate how much our hard work means to the people within the communities we serve.
Animation City will be no doubt be a massive undertaking, with hundreds of objects to be identified and digitally archived in a very short amount of time. However, with the unwavering support of the community behind us, I will be proud to work with my team to preserve this precious piece of British heritage, so that families from in the UK and worldwide can discover the magic of Cosgrove Hall again and again.