Wiltshire People 1st Heritage Lottery Project: ‘Our Lives, Our History’





Photo credit – Wiltshire Times, 2013


In 2013, Wiltshire People 1st received an award from the Heritage Lottery Fund to run an oral history project called ‘Our Lives, Our History’.  The project’s aim was to record the life stories of people with learning difficulties who have lived or worked in the West Wiltshire area over the last 100 years.

It explored the history of people with learning difficulties from Victorian times to the present.  Using their own words, contributors told stories of how people lived then and how they do now.  These stories showed changing attitudes towards disability and celebrated people’s achievements.

Ann Brenner interview

  By the end of the project we had collected:

  • peoples’ memories of living in St George’s, Semington when it was a long stay hospital  and memories from people with learning difficulties about the past 


  • stories about life in the workhouse
  • old records and photographs of patients or the building now known as the Independent Living Centre

 Workhouse women

  • information and recollections from carers, health professionals and members of the public who were interested in the project.

The OLOH Project was managed by Angie Carmichael (WPF Director).

Project Steering group and research group members were – Linda King, Michael Butt, Sandra Wells, David Martin, Paul Hughes, Niko Massouras and Ann Brenner.

Rich Weatherson and Steve Mazillius from South Gloucestershire and Stroud College Media department filmed and edited the DVD for us.

The Our Lives, Our History project included the following activities:

Research Training

Research training






5 members of Wiltshire People 1st attended a training session, led by Angie, to learn basic research skills.   Research is an organised way of finding answers to specific questions.

The key questions we covered in our project were:

·       how were disabled people treated in the past?

·       what was it like living in the workhouse?

·       what were disabled people’s lives like if they lived at home?

·       did they go to school and have paid jobs?

·       what have been the main changes over time?


The group used books and the internet to find information.  They thought about the questions they might ask someone if they were interviewing them for the project, and took turns practicing by interviewing each other.  It was good fun and people were eager to start finding things out.

Visits to the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre

History centre research

Members of the Research and Steering Group made a number of visits to the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre in Chippenham to learn about what life was like in the workhouse.  They looked at old documents, photographs and maps which showed the daily rations (the food people ate), the clothes they had to wear and the rules, which were very strict.

This put their Research Training to good use.  Members learned that people with learning difficulties were treated very differently 100 years ago if they were unfortunate enough not to have any family to look after them at home and so had to go into the workhouse.

Visit to Trowbridge Museum










The Steering Group members also paid a visit to Trowbridge Museum to see artefacts from the workhouse.  They were given a guided tour and looked at a special silver cup and plate. It was thought these may have been used by the Workhouse Guardians (the ‘bosses’ or rich people who ran the workhouse) or in the chapel.

Community Focus Group

Community focusWiltshire People 1st held three Community Focus Groups in Trowbridge, Bradford on Avon and Melksham/Semington.

Members of the public and other invited guests came along, had a coffee and found out more about ‘Our Lives, Our History’.  Some offered their services as volunteers and others shared their ideas and stories with us.


Members scrapbook coverMembers of Wiltshire People 1st had the opportunity to share their life stories and were invited to bring in old photographs of themselves from childhood upwards and other memorabilia such as newspaper cuttings or tickets.

The photos were copied and formed a central part of a Scrapbook  which we made to show people what we had done when we held our displays and exhibitions.  

Filming day









In March 2016, 8 Wiltshire People 1st members who were budding actors, were invited to dress up in period costumes and be filmed for our DVD. The locations we filmed at included the St George’s building (now the Independent Living Centre, but once the Workhouse) and around Semington village itself.

Launch event  

Looking at display








On 27th April 2016 we invited members of the public and others who had helped us with the project to come to the rugby club and see our displays and hear all about our research and to celebrate reaching the end of the project. They had the opportunity to watch the DVD and chat to members of Wiltshire People 1st about their lives and involvement in the project.

The project on display

Atrium displayWiltshire People 1st have put all of the information they found and the things they have collected into an Information Pack and it is available for the public to view. There are recordings of the interviews with members which will be kept at the WSHC. The final display included a timeline banner, a resource pack for schools and communities, the DVD Our Lives, Our History (where you can see and hear the real life stories of people’s experiences using their own words).

This is what members of the public have said about the project and displays:

“I really enjoyed the exhibition – especially the personal stories”.

“Great to see you found so much interesting stuff. Loved it. Thanks”.

“Keep going with [the exhibition] to make people realise that your history is important”.

“Absolutely fascinating. Something you don’t get to hear about much”.

“Read and found very educational for myself and my 9 year old daughter. Thank you for sharing with us”.

What did members enjoy about the project?

Learning different things that I didn’t know before”.

“Wearing old costumes and being filmed”.

“Learning about history of disability over 100 years”.

“Research skills”.

 “Learning history skills that I didn’t have before the project started”.

 “I really enjoyed taking part in filming, visiting the History Centre, doing the workshops …it was really good fun and taking part with my friends all around me”.

What members told us was most interesting:

“How people with learning difficulties were treated”.

“finding out about workhouses and knowing people with disabilities had to go to them”.

“History – the way we used to live”.

“How people were treated and how they are now”.

  OLOH modern groupILC dressing up

If you would like to know more about the Our Lives, Our History project, talk to our members or would like to invite us to come to your school, college or where you work to show our display and talk to you, we would be very happy to do so. Please contact the office on 01380 871900 or enquiries@wiltshirepeople1st.org.uk