The Land Girls Project is reviving a historic legacy in the Midlands
Volunteers are investigating how the Women’s Land Army changed the local landscape between 1919-1949, and reaping wellbeing benefits
The Land Girls Project promotes mental health and wellbeing through engagement with arts and culture. It is run by Borderland Voices, a small charity based on the border of Derbyshire, Staffordshire and Cheshire.
The project investigates the Women’s Land Army (WLA) between 1919-49, and how it changed the local landscape – physically and socially. The Land Girls (members of the wartime Women’s Land Army) and the Lumber Jills (working in a sister organisation with the Forestry Commission) helped produce vital food and timber during both World Wars, when most men were at war and these industries needed women’s help to continue their work.
The Land Girls Project is researching connections between former Land Army girls, local farm owners and the community. The main aims of the project are to preserve the personal histories of the Women’s Land Army in Leek/North Staffordshire, and help the local community reconnect with that part of its history and heritage, while supporting people to connect to each other. In practice, it has also helped people build resilience over the testing months of the pandemic and lockdown, maintaining their health and wellbeing.
So far participants have been remotely recording the reminiscences of local people with Land Army connections and researching their placements. When circumstances allow, participants will be able to further develop skills and gain experience in writing, publishing and research, by creating art and publications, organising exhibitions and updating the website and recording podcasts. Public open days, guided walks, conducting oral history interviews and working with local schools are also planned.
Many existing Borderland Voices participants not only live with mental health issues but are elderly and/or isolated. The laughter, social interaction and peer support they enjoy in workshops is as vital as their shared heritage interest in creating their support network. It operates during and between sessions, and sustains people if illness keeps them away for a while. Being isolated in a strange place, separated from friends and loved ones, parallels the situation many Land Girls found themselves in, and struck a chord with the Borderland Voices writing group during the past months. Just as the Land Girls were encouraged to write and express their emotions, so the participants have used words to try and make sense of 2020. [h2] Heritage on prescription
Social prescribing link workers are already quite well embedded in general practices in Leek and the Moorlands – at least one was in post before COVID-19, others were appointed during the pandemic and have been working with people remotely. Andy Collins from Borderland Voices has been in touch with all of them since March 2020, and they have been working together to develop a line of referrals for the Land Girls Project. Since things began to ease slightly in the second half of 2021, Borderland Voices restarted face-to-face sessions at the beginning of September and began to get a steady trickle of referrals.
Borderland Voices has been around a long time, so people tend to know how they work. The Land Girls Project is time-limited and only part of all the activities they offer, which are often inspired by the heritage of the area.
The Land Girls Project is funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund with additional match funding from Staffordshire County Council (the ‘People Helping People’ fund) and Leek Arts Forum.
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