2017 FORMER RUGBY LEAGUE PLAYERS BRING THEIR OWN
STORIES TO LIFE
“I have had my eyes opened to the rich history of the game.”
This HLF-Rugby League Cares jointly funded reminiscence and oral history project took place during February – October 2017. Its heritage focus was the rugby league community in Rochdale and Oldham, Lancashire. The aim was to engage people via rugby league memories and stories, particularly those at risk of social isolation, and people with dementia. A reminiscence box with activity plans and resources was created for the local NHS memory clinic’s use. Formal oral history interviews were recorded with important figures from the game, as well as interviews with fans and former players in both towns.
Playwright Mick Martin (Broken Time, Once Upon A Time in Wigan) was engaged to create a performance, called It’s In the Blood! based on the stories which emerged from the oral histories and sporting reminiscence sessions. A community cast including former players performed the piece in 4 different community venues. Bringing oral history to life in this way would work well in any community and it’s a technique we hope to bring to future heritage projects.
Project Officer – co-ordinating the project and managing the budget.
Oral history interviews with former players and other key figures.
Transcription of interviews.
Recruit and run sporting reminiscence sessions for people with dementia.
Create contents for memory boxes including resources and session plans.
Working with the playwright to recruit and rehearse a community cast, source rehearsal and performance space, props and costumes etc.
Promotion through print and social media, local and regional radio etc.
STORIES TO STAGE: It’s in the Blood! was funded by HLF North West and Rugby League Cares. The sport of Rugby League has a rich heritage and is an integral part of many local communities in Manchester and the North West. Even clubs whose teams are no longer at the top, have committed club historians running websites, reunions and memory cafes. Rochdale and Oldham are towns whose teams were at the top of the sport during the 50s and 60s, and still playing in professional rugby league today.
Rochdale was innovative in the sport during the 1960s when the club manager recruited players from Fiji to play for the team. Most of them stayed on, married local girls, and today the town boasts the largest Fijian population outside London. The sons and grandsons of those early players have also played for the club – the sport really is in the blood!
The aim of the project was to reconnect today’s population with their towns’ heritage through the dynamics of a performance where they could hear the players themselves telling the stories, as they watched them played out by a community cast.
Oral history recordings with key figures, including dual code players, a sports journalist, two of the original Fijian Hornets players, David Hinchliffe, the former MP who played a pivotal role in lifting the forces ban against the sport.
THE DIFFERENCE THE PROJECT MADE TO HERITAGE:
“I learned new knowledge, especially about Rochdale.”
“…memories brought back, very good, I’m glad I came.”
Oral history recordings with key figures will be featured on the Rugby League Cares website. These include the memories of former players who are in their late 70s and 80s. They may also find a place in the proposed new Rugby League museum to be opened in Bradford in 2019.
During open days, three fans/players brought photographs, cuttings, programmes and other items which they donated to the project. Some of these will be taken into the local club heritage collection, while other items will be retained for the proposed new museum.
Around 250 people watched a performance of It’s in the Blood! Audience feedback showed that 68% of them intended to share what they’d discovered with friends and family – many said they “couldn’t wait!” Even die-hard fans and former players said they had learned something new.
THE DIFFERENCE MADE TO PEOPLE:
“I made a whole lot of new friends. Thank you for the opportunity!”
One of the project aims was to address social isolation amongst males aged between 55 and 70. 46% of our audience fell into this age and gender bracket, and enjoyed seeing, and talking to, the sporting heroes of their youth. The intergenerational benefits of creating performance from memories were clear – amongst the cast and crew, nearly 20 people ranging in age from 13 to 80, worked together for several months. Many had never met before, and others were able to renew lost acquaintance.
What really resonated with the audience was the placing of former players at the centre of their own story. They narrated the events which were re-enacted by the younger members of the cast. As one audience member put it: “…worked really well – the integration of personal stories…real people …deserves more performances…great!” The former players relished the challenge of performance and the younger cast members were introduced to an aspect of their home town heritage in a more meaningful and lasting way than a website alone would have achieved.
The full performance can viewed here.