Quentin Kopp, Orwell Society Events Secretary, and son of George Orwell’s commander in Spain Georges Kopp, reports on September’s events in Wigan and Manchester to celebrate the launch of the Wigan Pier 80 Project web-site.
The Wigan Pier Project Launch Events
September 9th & 11th
Ros Wynne-Jones and her colleague Claire Donnelly have spent 20 months following the trail of George Orwell during which he researched The Road to Wigan Pier. The Orwell Society were there in the beginning who in the shape of some hardy souls walked with Ros and colleagues at Clent Hills in Worcestershire. It was good that two of them, Neil Smith and David Craik, were able to come to Sunshine House on Sunday. The work is captured in this excellent web site. The two events to officially launch the web site, which I attended, were at Sunshine House on Sunday 9th September and at The People’s History Museum in Manchester on Tuesday 11th September.
The Orwell Society held their major celebration of the 80th anniversary of the publication of The Road to Wigan Pier at the Sunshine House Community Hub. Sunshine House is in the heart of Scoles, which is the part of Wigan in which Orwell based himself. This Community Hub has developed from a housing support/protest group which Barbara Nettleton founded in her spare bedroom. It has developed enormously and now successfully delivers its amazing services from two adjacent substantial buildings. These services for local people and are mostly staffed by volunteers. Their Facebook page will give a flavour of the job they do.
Our visit last year stimulated a great burst of creativity, which I am pleased to say has been sustained since. The launch show at Sunshine House included talks about the web site and the project, and a first site of the films on the web site which are fascinating. The show was compered by Alan Gregory, the creator Beyond Wigan Pier the musical show which started with the songs he created for us. It included music from Alan, his team of musicians and Chonkinfeckle the Wigan Folk Due. The Writers group, whose impressive work entertained us last March, produced a wide range of new poetry and dramatizations of situations inspired by Orwell’s work and their own lives. At half time we enjoyed a splendid Wigan Pie and trimmings. The large audience of local people clearly enjoyed the afternoon as much as we did.
The People’s History Museum: The national museum of democracy
Photograph from Twitter: Sean Garrett (L), Quentin Kopp (R)
This launch event coincided with the TUC’s 150th Anniversary and Congress. The Keynote Speaker was France O’Grady the impressive head of the TUC, who gave a spirited address celebrating the way that Ros and Claire and their team had approached their task and the way in which they gave people, who would not normally have a voice, an opportunity to describe their world. The event featured several of the wonderful 5 minute films on the web site. The audience included many of the people featured on the films including Rita Culshaw, who was a Wigan Pit Brow Lass, who had also been at the event at Sunshine House (see her film on the website). It also attracted the Manchester Central MP and Shadow Education Secretary Lucy Powell and prominent Trade Unionists. I was delighted to meet many of the people Richard Blair had met in Liverpool recently who had also played their part in the web site. The event ended with Chonkinfeckle, the Wigan Folk duo, who had given such a splendid set at Sunshine House. Their material if mostly written by themselves and gives a humorous view of life.
Photograph from Twitter: Ros Wynne Jones (Standing L)
Quentin Kopp 12th September 2018