Owners of a historic textile archive in Farsley have netted £40,000 National Lottery grant to work with students with special learning needs on a wide range of projects.
The historic Sunny Bank Mills Archive is one of the most significant and substantial woven textile archives in the UK, and has been awarded the cash from The National Lottery Heritage Fund.
It will allow them to work with students at West Leeds Specialist Inclusive Learning Centre (SILC) Powerhouse in Farsley by creating youth ambassadors to produce a more inclusive and accessible website, and create an interactive inventory of objects in the archive.
Curator Rachel Moaby said:
“This generous grant is absolutely transformational for us. One of the key lessons we learned from being locked down during the global pandemic was that we needed to be much more accessible.
“We intend to use this collaboration, called Weaving the Web, to help to create lasting connections and exciting new projects at the Archive.
“This will not only benefit the students but will also increase the knowledge of our staff and volunteers at Sunny Bank Mills. We intend to create youth ambassadors working in tandem with West Leeds SILC’s work-related learning programme to build much more inclusive web design and content, helping to promote inclusivity and accessibility at the archive.
“We feel this work is tremendously important, both for us and for West SILC, whose students have a range of learning needs including Asperger’s, Autism, Cerebral Palsy and Downs Syndrome. They will really benefit from this project – as will we.
“Wherever possible the Farsley community and West SILC students will be invited to experience the rich heritage of the Archive in person. The equipment and training facilitated by this grant will give us the tools to create and continue workshops for years to come. With digital input and increased website access, a whole new audience can, and will, be reached.”
As part of the Weaving the Web programme Tom Jackson, a freelance photographer and a lecturer in digital media at the University of Leeds, will be developing an exciting record of the objects in the Archive through 360 photography.
He will also be creating workshops for West SILC students and the local community, as well as building a dynamic interactive inventory of the objects in the Archive available through the Sunny Bank Mills website.
The Mills, which were originally built in 1829, have been in the Gaunt family for six generations and are currently owned and managed by cousins John and William.
The Gaunts set up Sunny Bank Mills Ltd, a not-for-profit company, in 2017 to safeguard the historic textile archive at Sunny Bank Mills. John Gaunt said:
“The grant will allow the archive to invest in equipment and skills to make it accessible online to not just the community from which it was borne, but to all corners of the wider community that want to see it.”
The nationally important Sunny Bank Mills Archive consists of: fabric records including over 300 guard books containing thousands of textile cuttings; 60,000 lengths of fabric; 8,000 fabric designs; 5,000 wool dyeing recipe cards; 100 leather bound ledgers and cash books; weaving looms; photographs and memorabilia and a library of mill-related books.
On the closure of a mill, the textile records are generally thrown in the skip, with 99% of West Yorkshire’s textile archives lost. The Gaunt family were determined that Sunny Bank Mills’ heritage should be preserved for future generations, so when the mill closed in 2008, all the mill records were carefully set aside.
William Gaunt explained:
“It is important to John and I that the Archive has a secure future beyond our lifetimes for generations to come, so The National Lottery Heritage grant means a great deal to us. The management, restoration, conservation, preservation, use and promotion of the Archive here is absolutely crucial.”