By One Giant Leap
Thursday 25 Jun 2020 15:15:00
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Middlesbrough's ‘virtual' Local History Month has been heralded as the most popularly followed in its decade-long existence reaching more than 15,000 people.

The event, which was held throughout May was planned to be the first to link in with a new Stockton Local History Month.

Unfortunately when the Coronavirus lockdown occurred the event, like so many others was faced with cancellation.

However, ingenious organisers quickly re-modelled the entire programme to create a packed online joint Middlesbrough-Stockton Local History Month.

Robert Nichols, one of the Local History Month organisers, said it was the most popularly followed Local History Month ever with more than 15,000 Teessiders logging in to the virtual events. He has now listed all of the LHM Heroes who made the event a success.

He said: "There could be no walks, talks or open days and exhibitions. Yet a meeting of minds around a zoom screen formulated a new virtual programme which actually has become the most popular Local History Month ever held in Middlesbrough.

"With people isolated at home it was also surely the most important ever. We were told time and again through the lock-down month of Mat just how much this month of daily virtual events and talks meant to people self-isolating at home.

"It also brought Middlesbrough and Stockton together to share this important month of thinking about the places and the faces that were the making of both boroughs.

Black Path"The decision was made to take Local History into homes through the computers, laptops, tablets and mobile phones through social media.

"Now that lockdown is easing people of Middlesbrough and Stockton have a new treasure trove of landmarks, paths, tracks, sites of myth and folklore to explore.

"May Local History Month was like none before but has opened up many possibilities for the future. It shows once again that we have a passion for our local history as well as a pioneering spirit to both discover and communicate those personal stories of places and faces. It was a local triumph out of adversity and a gateway for future exploration."

Cllr Mieka Smiles, Middlesbrough Council's Executive Member for Culture and Communities, said: "I take my hat off to everyone involved in Local History Month who came together so quickly to turn this brilliant annual event into a month-long online occasion marking Teesside's history.

"It was not only the most well received for numbers who followed the online events but given the lockdown situation probably the most important and I'm sure everyone who watched enjoyed them and appreciated the efforts that went into making them happen."

Overnight local historians became experts at video talks thanks to the technical expertise of Matthew Jones of Stockton Reference and Information Librarian.

Middlesbrough and Stockton combined forces. Although physically closed Stockton and Middlesbrough Libraries and Teesside Archives all opened up to us online. The Battlefields Trust and Middlesbrough Museums both came fully on board.

Following VE Day there was as a daily record of graves and lives of servicemen buried in Linthorpe Cemetery from the Friends of Linthorpe Cemetery presented on a new Friends VE Day facebook page.

Videos by historian Martin Peagam and presentations by authors like Martyn Hudson, Danyel Gilgan and Civil War enthusiasts Tony Fox and Mark Turnbull brought lots of interaction as did Martin Peagam's virtual tours of Oxbridge Cemetery and Stockton High Street. If we could not visit the sites then they could visit us.

Discover Middlesbrough facebook page - one of the two home page with Stockton Borough Libraries - was viewed by thousands every day. Showing on that page, Phil and Janet Philo's beautiful film about Civil War action in Marske by the Sea has reached nearly 15 000 people so far.

Heritage Unlocked Tosh Warwick worked with Teesside Archives to Rediscover Teesside in the form of digitised recordings made in the 1980s, when people were interviewed about memories reaching back to the start of the 20th century.

In fact I was surprised by my own grandma, Dora Bruce being rediscovered in one of those Thursday Rediscovered listen sessions telling us about surviving Spanish Flu on Longford Street, Middlesbrough in 1918.

Two art exhibitions captivated the public via online galleries. Creative Factory Gordon Dalton was able to talk visitors around his exhibition of painters.

Senior Teesside University Lecturer, Julian Lawrence was able to rescue his students comic art exhibition by commissioning an online gallery to show their compositions.

We reached out with blogs, by local indeTerry Scott Transporterpendent bloggers whose pages were opened up to more people than ever before.

Mima Gallery Assistant, Kingsley Chapman, told hidden stories behind some of the gems of mima's Middlesbrough Council Art Collection.

Psycho geographer Gavin Parry's Smell of Water recorded his highest number of visitors ever. If people could not actually step out on the Black Path then Gavin's blog about the history and folklore of this famous local trod brought it into over 3,000 people's homes.

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