The Silk Mill Spins

Launching Future Works: The Silk Mill Spins Once More

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On 18th December 2014, I put my English books to one side, momentarily removed myself from the solitude of pre-Christmas essay prep in my titchy student apartment, and took a train across the Derbyshire border for the launch event of Future Works: a well-manufactured compound of energy, revolution, and posh pyclets.

Prior to last month, my sole visit to Derby had been to Pride Park in April, when a 2-1 defeat to Derby County sent Barnsley, my beloved hometown football club, towards almost inevitable Championship relegation. The heat of mid-spring had given way to bitter winter, yet the Silk Mill experience proved to be far more heart-warming.

When I first walked out onto the museum’s bustling, I did feel a little out of my depth. Having tagged along with Future Works when they visited the AMRC and opened the remarkable Portland Works renovation earlier that month, I had a good idea of what the project was all about, and was eager to see more. Nevertheless, in a workshop of architects, artists, manufacturers and historians – and anyone else who I might have missed out in that large crowd of imaginative minds – the English student wondered where he might fit in.

I needn’t have worried. Future Works were as welcoming as ever, encouraging everyone to engage with their research themes of energy, industry, community, sustainability, and more. My group’s presentation was based on political issues – past, present and future – faced in Sheffield and the Derwent region. Using one of eight artefacts, a book from the 1940s entitled ‘The Battle of Steel’, I actually found myself making contributions to the discussion with my own research, through which I too have explored the relationship between narratives and industry. Although my previous work has focused more on ex-coal mining communities, it was certainly still relevant here.

We had a historian, a bunch of architecture postgraduates, and a member of an independent textiles manufacturer in our group, so our topics of conversation were incredibly diverse. There’s a real value to engaging with this kind of interdisciplinary communication. Everyone has the ability to form their own point of view, but to have so many people from a wide range of academic and non-academic disciplines allows our cumulative observations to cover a broader area of critique, exposing one another to a spectrum of perspectives.

And how befitting it was, too, to hold this innovative event at the Silk Mill – the site of the world’s first factory. Textile production has long left the shop floor, yet within these walls, Derby finds itself once again in the foreground of industrial advancement, spinning the threads that will one day form the fabric of our future, energetic lives.

Once the presentations were finished and the pyclets had met a similar end, the real treats began. We heard academics deliver their innovative research, watched Bexie Bush’s wonderful animations literally bring narrative to life, and listened as Lucy Ward’s lyrical stylings paid rousing homage to a folk tradition of storytelling which, after centuries of existence, is still very much alive and kicking.

Above all, it was the source of these strands that interested me just as much as their content. Stories of Change has made three project commitments, and the first is:

“To listen to and give a platform to more diverse, often unheard, voices.”

That mantra, too, lived and breathed within the very walls of the first factory. In a mere matter of hours, numerous walks of life were represented, each as significant as the one before. Any voice, regardless of background or expertise (if any), could have stood in my place and had their voices heard, just as mine was. Now I’ve contributed, I, too, feel I’m part of their story.

So, as I spun around (that’s my last silk pun, promise!) and took the evening train back home, I found myself smiling all the way home, inspired by all I had seen and heard in Derby’s Silk Mill. If Future Works can achieve all this during its relatively short span of existence, then I watch on with great interest to see what they will accomplish next.

Sadly, the same can’t be said for Barnsley.

This post was written by Ryan Bramley, 3rd year Undergraduate, School of English, University of Sheffield.

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