Women have worked in factories across Wales, producing a huge variety of goods, from textiles and clothes, to washing machines, batteries and explosives. Most of these factories have now closed, and many of the workers long since retired, with some now in their 90’s. This history of ordinary working women had been neglected. Voices from the Factory Floor sought to document their stories, and ensure their place in the historical record.
The Women’s Archive set up a project management group from amongst its members. Three field officers were appointed and, with help from volunteers, they recorded over 200 oral history interviews with a wide range of women. They also collected documents and photographs of the women working ‘on the line’ and at social events.
‘Initially a little nerve wracking as it was something I’d not done before but really exciting and I very much enjoyed listening to the experiences of the speakers first hand’.
This previously hidden history was shared through a series of exhibitions across Wales. The recordings and other materials have been deposited with the National Sound and Screen Archive, available to the public now and in the future.
Making a difference
- A wide range of women have been involved in recording and sharing their heritage. These women came from urban and rural areas across the whole of Wales. They worked in different roles from the factory floor to office and management work, and came from English and Welsh-speaking areas, as well as Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities.
- The heritage of women’s working lives was identified and documented through 210 oral history interviews in Welsh and English. These interviews, alongside photographs and documents, have been summarised and deposited in an archive where they will be safely stored and accessible for future generations.
- Project staff and volunteers received training in oral history, and developed skills to use the recording equipment, prepare and undertake interviews, and document and transcribe the recordings.
- This history was introduced to a wide range of people, through significant media coverage, blogs and other social media and six travelling exhibitions. The exhibitions toured to a variety of venues, including local libraries and archives, and arts centres.
- The heritage was explained in greater depth through the exhibitions, a series of talks, and a website, which includes 25 audio clips from the interviews. This enabled people to learn about women’s experiences on and beyond the factory floor.
Interviewees were recruited through a wide variety of methods, including newspaper and radio publicity, public talks and community organisations. While many women responded positively to the opportunity to tell their story, flexibility was required when arrangements were changed. For example, interviews had to be rescheduled at short notice when older interviewees became unwell, and some changed their minds after agreeing initially to be recorded. It took longer to gather the number of interviews planned.
While the project had a specified time period and interviewees, going beyond these occasionally did enrich the project. It was not possible to limit interviews to the period between 1945 and 1975 as planned, because their times in the workplace did not coincide neatly with these dates. This, however, enabled inclusion of women’s experiences in relation to the Second World War and the Equal Pay Act. Similarly, the project also benefited from gaining some wider perspectives, for example, from students who worked in factories during holidays.
Project managers sought advice from the Oral History Society regarding recording equipment and found this helpful in deciding what to purchase.
It was initially planned to transcribe every interview verbatim, but this was found to be too time-consuming. Regional dialects could also slow down the work. After five months it was decided to change the plan, and free more time to complete the interviews. Instead, staff and volunteers prepared summaries of the interviews and only wrote verbatim descriptions of any comments of particular interest or importance. Summaries of 60 Welsh language interviews were also translated into English.