Historic Yorkshire textile archive recieves ‘transformational’ lottery grant

William Gaunt and Rachel Moaby with a comptometer

The historic Sunny Bank Mills Archive, one of the most significant and substantial woven textile archives in the UK, has been awarded a £40,000 grant from The National Lottery Heritage Fund.

The Archive, an integral part of the award-winning Sunny Bank Mills complex in Farsley, near Leeds, is to use this grant to work in partnership with a nearby inclusive learning centre.

The Mills, which were originally built in 1829, have been in the Gaunt family for six generations and are currently owned and managed by cousins John and William.

The Gaunts set up Sunny Bank Mills Ltd, a not-for-profit company in 2017 to safeguard the historic textile archive at Sunny Bank Mills and the archive has gone from strength to strength since then. It is curated by Rachel Moaby.

Rachel said: “This generous grant from The National Lottery Heritage Fund is absolutely transformational for us. One of the key lessons we learned from being locked down during the global pandemic was that we needed to be much more accessible”

“We will be working in partnership with the Post 16 department at West Leeds Specialist Inclusive Learning Centre (SILC) Powerhouse based in Farsley. We intend to use this collaboration, called Weaving the Web, to help to create lasting connections and exciting new projects at the Archive.

“This will not only benefit the students but will also increase the knowledge of our staff and volunteers at Sunny Bank Mills. We intend to create youth ambassadors working in tandem with West Leeds SILC’s work-related learning programme to build much more inclusive web design and content, helping to promote inclusivity and accessibility at the archive.

“We feel this work is tremendously important, both for us and for West SILC, whose students have a range of learning needs including Asperger’s, Autism, Cerebral Palsy and Downs Syndrome. They will really benefit from this project – as will we,” said Rachel.

“Wherever possible the Farsley community and West SILC students will be invited to experience the rich heritage of the Archive in person. The equipment and training facilitated by this grant will give us the tools to create and continue workshops for years to come. With digital input and increased website access, a whole new audience can, and will, be reached.”

As part of the Weaving the Web programme Tom Jackson, a freelance photographer, and a Lecturer in Digital Media at the University of Leeds, will be developing an exciting record of the objects in the Archive through 360 photography. He will also be creating workshops for West SILC students and the local community, as well as building a dynamic interactive inventory of the objects in the Archive available through the Sunny Bank Mills website.

John Gaunt said: “We are delighted to be recognised by The National Lottery Heritage Fund in what will be a transformational project for the Sunny Bank Mills Archive. The grant will allow the archive to invest in equipment and skills to make it accessible online to not just the community from which it was borne, but to all corners of the wider community that want to see it.

“We look forward to working with the West Specialist Inclusive Learning Centre students and web designers Split Pixel who will help us really understand what accessible means. This is such exciting news.”

The nationally important Sunny Bank Mills Archive consists of: fabric records including over 300 guard books containing thousands of textile cuttings; 60,000 lengths of fabric; 8,000 fabric designs; 5,000 wool dyeing recipe cards; 100 leather bound ledgers and cash books; weaving looms; photographs and memorabilia and a library of mill-related books.

On the closure of a mill, the textile records are generally thrown in the skip. Therefore, sadly, 99% of West Yorkshire’s textile archives have been lost. The Gaunt family, however, were adamant that Sunny Bank Mills’ heritage should be preserved for future generations, so when the mill closed in 2008, all the mill records were carefully set aside.

William Gaunt said: “It is important to John and I that the Archive has a secure future beyond our lifetimes for generations to come, so The National Lottery Heritage grant means a great deal to us. The management, restoration, conservation, preservation, use and promotion of the Archive here is absolutely crucial.”

Thanks to The National Lottery players, this important and exciting project can take place and help to create lasting connections with all our community and their heritage.

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