Building on the privilege of making a digital installation of film and photography for the A Portrait of Swindon: The Queen’s Jubilee in 2012, the team at Create had built a rich network of contributors and interviewees who were featured in a touring exhibition reaching over 30,000 people, many moved to tears by the poetic weaving of images and interviews about the town they called home.
The creative team wanted to explore the stories that had built the strength of the town through more in depth personal stories, and in 2015, The Digital Journeys project commissioned by Arts Council England explored themes of journey and home in candid film and photographic portraits, and an interactive app that allowed visitors to explore the global journeys that had led to their current home. From school children, to staff in blue chip companies and the town’s Chief Executive, everyone contributed their memories and hopes for the future.
Based on these 2 projects that had touched a broad range of communities and audiences, Heritage Lottery Fund SW approached Create Studios to scope a major project which would uncover hidden stories of diverse communities and explore the theme of migration which Digital Journeys had begun to explore.
The team were hungry to explore positive themes of migration – a word that had developed negative connotations in mainstream media nationally – whilst having brought positive experience and prosperity to the development of a successful 21st century town, building Swindon's identity towards city status.
Connecting through Create partnerships, we secured the participation of Nepalese, Afro-Caribbean, Refugee and Asylum communities and the GWR worker’s group who had all been on journeys of migration whether within or from outside the UK.
Wider communities were invited to contribute through open call sessions, and drew people from the States, Eastern Europe and beyond.
Building relationships and trust over time, contributors created a new archive of oral histories which will rest in perpetuity in Wiltshire & Swindon Heritage Centre – 43 in total – which shared personal stories of hope, challenge, contribution and home. All were woven together into a 20 minute feature that formed the cornerstone of the touring See Me Too exhibition.
Three shorter films were created, featuring an exemplar character story, embodying the deeper experience of whole communities. Stories from Fred, Manju and Adeola can all be seen on the See Me Too website which we co-created with Bath Spa University.
You can explore the whole See Me Too project at createstudios.org.uk/see-me-too
"The community were so enthusiastic when the concept was introduced... especially the Veterans who were so proud of how far they had come... and who had felt their stories were hidden"
Manju: Nepalese Association of Wiltshire
With the oral histories for contributing communities safely captured, the Create team shifted focus to its work with young people and emerging talent, with 2 groups invited to make responsive media productions to the original archives in Swindon’s Local Studies Collection, and the new oral histories captured. Students from Dorcan Academy Secondary School made a series of photographic dramatic reconstructions of the stories and themes they had heard.
MassMedia, Create’s own talent group, were mentored in the production of a short film on themes around refugee experience and choices around leaving home.
All creative pieces produced or mentored by the Create team toured Swindon and Wiltshire heritage and public venues over a 9 month period reaching 27,000 people with astonishing responses evidencing civic pride and increased connection and tolerance in audiences.
"No one has been capturing contemporary Swindon history in the way that Create Studios have done. See Me Too and their 2016 Digital Journeys initiative have made unique contributions to regional archives and Swindon's understanding of its rich diverse heritage and development as a town."
Reflection from Darryl Moody, Local Studies (Swindon Libraries)
Whilst the exhibition was live, we partnered with Swindon’s Schools of Sanctuary team to deliver a series of workshops for schools with over 100 students and teachers supported to re-think their understanding of citizenship and to reach out to their own communities.
"I really liked interacting with everyone and seeing Swindon from a different perspective..."
Participant on the See Me Too school workshop
The response from National Lottery Heritage Fund, the participants and audiences speak for themselves, and the final affirmation came from Nationwide Building Society whose HQ in Swindon is home to over 2000 international colleagues. They loved what Create had achieved with See Me Too, and a new project See Me Nationwide was born, and will tour selected High Street branches in Spring 2021.