Crafting Resilience: Cultural Heritage and Community Engagement in Post-Industrial Textile Communities.

Wellesley-Smith, Claire Elizabeth (2023). Crafting Resilience: Cultural Heritage and Community Engagement in Post-Industrial Textile Communities. PhD thesis The Open University.



This thesis discusses how engagements with cultural heritage through slow, localised craft practices construct and articulate collective identity and build resilience. Based in former areas of industrial textile production, it is a multi-site ethnographic study of two community-based long-term arts and heritage projects in Church, near Accrington, East Lancashire and Bradford, West Yorkshire. The projects explored specific aspects of textile heritage: printing and dyeing, and recycling and repair practices. The longitudinal nature of the research into processes including growing, making, unmaking, and remaking allows for consideration of how outcomes are embedded in projects like this. The locations of projects offer opportunities to consider the present lived experiences of post-industrial textile communities through their multi-layered heritage. The final fieldwork for the project was completed during the first UK Covid lockdown and offers valuable insight into the spatiality of projects like these and what happens when site-specific context is taken away. It is written through the lens of a practitioner-researcher whose many years of practice is based in the development and delivery of socially engaged arts projects. Multiple methods were employed over a period of years including participant observation during textile making and gardening workshops, semi-structured interviews with individuals and groups, photography and a reflective daily stitching ‘thinking through making’ (Ingold, 2011; Ravetz, 2013) practice of the researcher. This thesis argues that socially engaged arts practices used in heritage engagements can transform participants’ lives in a number of ways. These include allowing them to participate meaningfully in the co-production of knowledge through slow craft making and storytelling and the revoicing and ownership of personal and community heritage narratives. It offers insights into the challenges and multiplicities of researcher-practitioner experience, the value of projects that take place over considerable periods of time and that use dialogic approaches to heritage and site (Harrison, 2013).

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