Exploring the decade following the Great War.

The Armistice of 1918 left a world and society in flux. The Workers’ Educational Association – which had been founded only fifteen years previously – played a key role in shaping the educational and social policies that were viewed as central to post-war reconstruction.  Almost a century later, the WEA in the North East received support from the Heritage Lottery Fund to explore Educational Campaigning within the WEA and affiliated organisations in the North East 1918-1928

The project research focused on three areas identified by volunteers as highly relevant to our shared heritage and present-day debates:

  • Women’s empowerment within the WEA and wider society - How did winning the vote but simultaneously losing many wartime industrial roles affect women and families? What about the post-war surge in single women?  How did education seek to address these issues?
     
  • How were WEA members and affiliates involved in repatriation of people and regeneration of communities? - In an era where homes fit for heroes and a better informed and healthier population were seen as important reconstruction aims, housing, health, education and employment were all of great importance. Project volunteers and students explored how those within the WEA and affiliated organisations campaigned to make good on these post-war hopes.
     
  • What became of the Conscientious Objectors and other radical thinkers?  - We examined how post-war attitudes and campaigns were informed by wartime controversies, for example the post-war experiences of radical thinkers, including those who, like NE District Secretary Jack Trevena, had to deal with the potential stigma of their conscientious objection. Radical thought would continue to be a very significant factor throughout the political upheavals of the ‘twenties, and we investigated how WEA members and affiliates contributed to ongoing debates and controversies.
     

Volunteers, students and members of affiliated organisations (eg the Durham Miners’ Association, the Women’s’ Engineering Society and Sunniside Local History Society) were helped to develop the tools to research and creatively tell the story of this transformative decade.

The project ran for eighteen months until July 2018 and produced publications in print and online, performances, exhibitions and events, a virtual archive and map of reading rooms, and even a pop-up reading room to mimic the sources of local informal education that existed in clubs, welfare halls and settlement houses throughout the era. Our film, Tatties, Tears and Telegrams, was chosen by the Heritage Lottery Fund as one of its 100 Stories for 100 Days campaign, in the run-up to the centenary of Armistice Day.