The Sturminster Newton Heritage Trust (SNHT) has been awarded £14,000 by the Association of Independent Museums (AIM) and National Lottery Heritage Fund to research and represent the Swanskin Seafarers of Sturminster.
The Swanskin Seafarers of Sturminster were people living in Sturminster from the 1600s to 1800s who left for the fishing grounds of the North Atlantic, especially to the coast of Newfoundland, Canada. Sturminster Newton mill supplied the seafarers with swanskin, a course white cloth favoured by those who worked the freezing Atlantic waters for its warmth and waterproof qualities. Records show that this was the main occupation of those who remained in Sturminster during this sustained period of long-term migration.
This New Stories, New Audiences grant from the AIM and the National Lottery Heritage Fund will enable the Sturminster Newton Heritage Trust to involve the local community in researching and telling the lesser-known stories of the local people who travelled thousands of miles in search of a better life.
Local students at Sturminster Newton High School will have the opportunity to become young co- curators, taking part in skills development workshops in historical research and helping to produce an exhibition and social media content for the museum themed around the Swanskin Seafarers. The SNHT will be partnering with Emerald Ant, a local arts company, to work with students to develop a story line for a shadow film inspired by the mechanics of the mill and historical sea shanties. This film will be projected at the Mill and Museum, making full use of the textures and wall spaces at the picturesque Mill to provide exciting spaces for small public projection events.
Emerald Ant will also help the Trust to establish a digital link with a school and community in Newfoundland with a strong Dorset heritage, to instigate a sharing of family stories. Young people will have the opportunity to explore these as part of their history curriculum, looking at how it felt to emigrate, why this was (and continues to be) a reality for many, and how local people from Sturminster settled in Newfoundland.
The Sturminster Newton Heritage Trust also hopes that this grant will be an opportunity to connect with families who have recently migrated to the area, especially from overseas. Through local community networks, and working with an oral history specialist in the County Archive (DHC), volunteers will record the stories of those who have migrated and settled in Dorset within the last ten years, to be integrated into the interpretation, and also for public access in the archive repositories.
Sylvia Denham, Curator of Sturminster Newton Museum says:
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We are delighted to have received this generous grant from AIM and the National Lottery Heritage Fund to tell the stories of these determined local people from Sturminster Newton, and the swanskin manufacture established in the town. This is a fantastic opportunity to connect with young people in Sturminster Newton, as well as those who have migrated and settled in Dorset in pursuit of better opportunities, who may relate to the story of the Swanskin Seafarers.