The story of the Living Legends project

The story of the Living Legends project

Leon Rbbinson
Leon Robinson of Positive Steps tells us about the journey of the Living Legends project, the incredible outcomes and why everybody has a chance at being funded.

The seeds were first planted for the Living Legends project when I was invited by Michael Murray, Development Manager at the HLF to attend a seminar in June 2013 to explore the grants for private owners of heritage.  The day was full of helpful information and took us through HLF’s funding process, guidelines and how applications are assessed.  We participated in an exercise on putting together a project plan and how to achieve these milestones. I found this to be a very insightful and entertaining seminar, which gave all the attendees an opportunity to demonstrate the needs for our individual projects.  I came away believing everybody has a chance of being supported by HLF.

[quote]"I came away believing everybody has a chance of being supported by HLF."[/quote]

The Living Legends project

I am very proud that Living Legends was the first project of it’s kind to be supported through HLF.  Living Legends was a nine-month project making visible the archival collections of myself, Leon Robinson of Positive Steps, and Steve Clark of the tap dancing duo The Clark Brothers.  The project was designed to celebrate the history of the Clark Brothers and highlight the contributions of Black variety performers to British culture in the period after the Second World War.

After my first meeting with the Clark Brothers I felt their story was the greatest untold story in British Variety Theatre history and was intertwined through my own personal collection.  This was the key I needed to open the door to both mine and Steve’s personal collections, and the catalyst for thinking about new exciting ways of reaching the wider public. 

Developed in association with four, high profile partners Delfont Mackintosh Theatres, Really Useful Theatres, the V&A and The Hackney Empire, the Living Legends project encouraged people to participate in heritage, providing a window for people to interpret both collections through a series of exhibitions, reminiscence sessions, workshops, performances, and film.  These dynamic, interactive displays and events encouraged audiences into the heritage and cultural spaces where the Living Legends was delivered. 

Project outcomes

The most exciting part of the project for me was to watch new audiences and the project team discover and engage with great chapters of British Variety Entertainment history through the reminiscences of Steve Clark, Peter Prichard, Miquel Brown and Grace Kennedy, which were filmed at the iconic London Palladium, the greatest Variety theatre in the world.

The project provided accessible learning opportunities and resources, which attracted and addressed the needs of various audiences, from fellow artists such as Lenny Henry, Ainsley Harriott, and Susie McKenna to the elders and young people engaged on the project. Indeed, in this climate of celebrity culture the Living Legend project really resonated and engaged with young people in terms of the history, which they felt was only preserved by the likes of Michael Jackson.

The Living Legends project gave an insight into how heritage can inspire creativity, and also how creativity can enhance heritage by allowing for more imaginative presentation methods.

The impact

An important observation was the inclusive dimension of the project. By involving young people in different ways this brought the archive to life and brought about inclusion rather than exclusion.

The project has encouraged more young people to explore their own histories and collect their own oral histories and memorabilia to create their own personal archives.  In my opinion it is this newly found interest for the next generation to preserve our history that is the greatest legacy of the Living Legends project.

How to find out more

To read more about the project visit Living Legends website.