Extra-care housing service launches heritage project to document Ellesmere Port’s working-class history

Tenants of two extra care services in Ellesmere Port are uncovering the rich history of the town in a project that will culminate in an exhibition featuring the untold stories of its working class residents.

The Port Histories Project has been created by the national health and social care charity Making Space, in collaboration with local historian Judith Beastall. The project is being funded by Historic England’s Everyday Heritage grant programme, celebrating working class histories.

Tenants of Making Space’s extra care services Hollymere and Hartley Place, all of whom are aged over 55, are working with Judith to choose the themes to explore. Together, the project team are taking part in local history workshops, exploring memories with guided trips around the town, and collecting images.

The 12-month project is integral to Making Space’s commitment to build relationships within the communities it serves. It will culminate in an exhibition curated by tenants, many of whom live with dementia and other mental health issues. The exhibition will document the cultural heritage of the town, with personal stories and previously unseen images.

Rachel Horton is the Making Space service manager for both Hollymere and Hartley Place. 

She said, “The Port Histories project is a wonderful example of how the quality care we provide is as unique as the people we support. By exploring and documenting the history of the town through our stories, we can help to connect people, tackle loneliness and isolation, and promote mental and physical wellbeing.

“Tenants are shaping the project from the outset, which is incredibly important to us as a social care charity. We are committed to ensuring the people who use our services are closely involved in co-producing every aspect of the care we deliver, and thanks to the Everyday Heritage programme we’re able to involve the whole town in this exciting project.

“This includes working with Judith and local community groups to explore their lived experiences of growing up or working in Ellesmere Port, including their childhood, housing, holidays and work. Tenants will also be heavily involved in designing the final exhibition.”

Val, a tenant at Hollymere, has contributed part of her personal collection of photographs to the project. 

She said, “I have a lot of photographs from previous generations and it’s been great to look back at all the fashions and to show people how things were back then. They’re not just photographs – each one has a story behind it.

“I like the fact that people are showing an interest in the history of Ellesmere Port, as well as who we are here at Hollymere and Hartley Place. I’m excited to see our displays in the exhibition and for local people to get involved with our history.”

Historian Judith has been researching and writing about the history of Ellesmere Port for over 30 years. 

She said, “Ellesmere Port can be considered to be fairly unique as we know its exact date of birth, which is 1 July 1795. The first residents in the town almost all came to work on the canal. It will be interesting to see if anyone is descended from one of the first families to arrive in the town, or whether they came later as other industries – such as Vauxhall’s, Mersey Iron Works, Bowaters, Shell and many others – arrived.”

Making Space fundraising manager Bob Towers was instrumental in securing the grant for the project. 

He said, ‘Ellesmere Port has a fascinating history from the growth of its canals, the oil refinery, ironworks and the Vauxhall car plant. Historic England is sincere in its aim to celebrate the people and places at the heart of our history.

“We are one of only 56 organisations nationally awarded a grant under the Everyday Heritage programme and it gives us a fantastic way for our tenants to use their lived experiences to create both the project and the exhibition. As an organisation, we emphasise doing things with people rather than for them. We value the skills, knowledge and experience of every individual and the Port Histories project is just one of the many ways we’re able to deliver on this commitment.”

The final exhibition will be held in early 2025.

Image: GOOGLE

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