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It’s been a difficult and unprecedented year. Along with the uncertainty of the situation and our isolation from others, a change of pace has forced many of us to re-evaluate things or at least think about what we really value. What’s important to you?

We asked the Rochdale community this question in the months after the first lockdown. The range of responses was heart-warming, and it is from these that this exhibition has been developed. Despite the individuality of each response, we found most of them revolved around five key themes. Family and friends was ofcourse a big one, along with community. Both involve looking out for one another and keeping people safe. For others being able to get outdoors into green spaces and nature has been a beneficial, calming escape from the anxieties of this year. Closely related was keeping active. Going for a run or taking long walks has given people a certain amount of freedom when most things are restricted. And finally embracing creativity and learning, whether taking up a new hobby or spending more time on an existing one, has helped people navigate this stressful year.

Mixing first-hand reflections drawn from the responses we received to our question, along with objects, artwork and archive material from Rochdale Borough’s significant cultural heritage collections, this exhibition explores these themes in more detail.

Join Curator Helen Beckett for a tour of the exhibition:

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1. Rare footage from Holidays at Home, 1942–44

Rochdale Borough Council
2.41 minutes
Courtesy of North West Film Archive, Manchester Metropolitan University

In 1942 the government launched an initiative with local authorities across England encouraging the civilian population to take their annual holiday within their home towns. Known in Rochdale as ‘Holidays at Home’, a week-long programme of activities and events was organised to entertain the workers and boost morale, while also freeing space on the railways for vital freight services. With travel restricted, people instead had access to entertainment and leisure on their doorstep. This rare footage filmed by the borough council captures people enjoying the events and activities from the ‘Holidays at Home’ week.

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3. Essay written by a child evacuee from the Channel Islands sent to Rochdale during the Second World War, 1940

In the face of imminent Nazi occupation, the government evacuated over 5000 people from the Channel Islands, scattering them across the UK to areas deemed safe from enemy bombing. Carrying few belongings, over 700 of these evacuees, mainly children from the States Intermediary School in Guernsey, arrived in Rochdale on 22 June 1940, where they were met with great hospitality and offers of a home with local families.  As the author writes here, people rallied round offering clothes, toys and even music lessons to make life away from home more comfortable.

9. Large hand-painted glass sign for Duckworth’s grocers, 1869

James Duckworth opened his first shop in 1868, selling tea, sugar and other groceries at affordable prices. ‘Jimmy Ducks’, as it was affectionately known, was soon supplying baked goods and confectionary as well as more luxurious products such as coffee to Rochdale’s growing town. Other branches soon opened across the Pennines, with the company running eighty stores across three counties during its heyday. As his business empire grew, Duckworth concerned himself in local politics and social issues, serving on the town council for over thirty years and donating large sums of money to help his workers and support civic projects.

What's Changed? 9. Large hand-painted glass sign for Duckworth’s grocers, 1869

21. Out of Place, 2017

Sutapa Biswas (b.1962)

Born through her work with a small group of South Asian men from Rochdale recovering from substance abuse, Out of Place is a visualisation of Biswas’s continued interest in the untold narratives of different communities. The neon sign is one of two pieces, the other being a poem, in which she explores and uncovers the complexity and lived experience of these men, drawing on the colonial past of South Asian culture and conflicting concerns around masculinity, as well as the importance the mother’s role plays in recovery.

What's Changed? 21. Out of Place, 2017

50. Untitled

Bob Crossley (1912–2010)

Bob Crossley grew up in Rochdale before moving to St Ives, Cornwall, in 1959. He was a member of Rochdale Art Society and is best known for his abstract oil and acrylic paintings that were heavily influenced by the Modernism of the 1950s.

These small experimental geometric collages resemble Crossley’s brightly coloured silkscreen prints from the 1970s and were likely preliminary experiments to work out composition and scale for larger pieces.

51. Preliminary sketches for Crescent II, 1963

John Wonnacott (b.1940)
Pencil on paper

57. Cultural Roots project developed with over-fifties persons from Rochdale Borough, 2020

Choreographed by Ruth Jones
Video, 11.01 minutes

The Cultural Roots project began in December 2019, with funding from GMCVO’s Ambition for Ageing, to support and develop the skills of local creative people over the age of fifty. They in turn developed and delivered a series of dance workshops, inviting local participants to join in the artistic process.

This video is the result of their work and, despite COVID-19 interrupting the original schedule, the women involved were quickly able to adapt and utilise online technology to see the project through to completion and continue with the development of their performance skills.

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