What Unite Community thought about the project…
The following report went to Unite Community Organiser, John Coan, on behalf of project participants:
Hunting for Social Ghosts in South Yorkshire
During the last year, a project called “Working with Social Haunting” has seen South Yorkshire Unite Community members involved in walking tours, radio broadcasting, comic strips and poetry workshops, university seminars, conferences and perhaps, most intriguingly of all, “Ghost Labs” – a kind semi-formal arts/political education space that focuses on excavating those ‘other’ histories that those in power keep telling us we ought to forget about! The project - led by former steel and rail worker and long time South Yorkshire activist, Geoff Bright, now a researcher at Manchester Metropolitan University - has investigated how conflicted pasts (the 84-85 miners’ strike is the obvious one in our area) remain present in the present in ways that are richly useful for bodies like Unite Community and the project’s Lancashire partner, the Co-operative College, as they help re-imagine the better world that members need and desire.
How have Unite Community members been involved in this Arts and Humanities Research Council Connected Communities funded project? John Taylor, for example, has had a formal project role in bringing members together from across South Yorkshire and key contributors to the project from Unite Community have been John himself, Mark James, Staurt Crossthwaite, Tim Jones, Fran Belbin, John Blackburn, Jan Anderson and Jan Campbell (with others popping in now and then). All have been deeply involved in creating and sustaining the culture of mutual support, care and sharing that has been characteristic of the Ghost Labs and all have experimented alongside artists and project academics in exploring collective poetry writing and comic strip as a viewpoint into the past in the present. Some very remarkable poetry and comic strip narratives have been created.
Has it all been worthwhile? John Taylor found the Ghost labs to be “not just a stimulating and creative experience, it was a deeply, no, more than that, a richly moving one”. But beyond personal enrichment, has it supported Unite Community’s day job of organising collective resistance to economic and social attacks increasingly targeted at isolated and vulnerable individuals? Mark believes the union’s keen interest in the project has definitely brought benefits: “The Ghost labs have actually helped to revitalise the branch and have enabled us to reflect upon the difficulties that we face representing marginal, often very vulnerable members of society”. According to Mark, the Ghost labs have been “different from most academic research. They enabled expression, creating the basis of agency for people to gain a hold over their own lives in a supporting environment of solidarity” Pretty much how we like to think of the role of Unite Community.