Phil – Port Stories and Me: The Happy Accident

Phil Chandler

It has been one of those happy accidents that life sometimes deals you.  An apparently random email from Global Link that could have been so easily overlooked, mentioning a project being run by the Dukes with an intriguing name: ‘Port Stories’.  The mention of ‘Dukes’ and ‘history’ was enough to get my daughters interested, and for me the link with Lancaster’s maritime past was the gilding on, well, perhaps the figurehead.

I’ve never been involved in a project like ‘Port Stories’ before, but if I had ever given any thought to what a community art/history project should be like (I hadn’t) I suspect it would have been something like this.  A disparate group of people, who wandered through the door on a cold winter’s evening, being welcomed, intrigued and encouraged to take a journey and see where it led them.

I have really appreciated the way in which opportunities and resources have been placed in front of us without a feeling of pressure as to how or whether we used them.

Being introduced to the somewhat overwhelming abundance of the county archives and the wonderful way Juliette, Emma and I were supported by the staff there to explore them was a particular highlight.

So too was the unexpected delight of the printing workshop where I became drawn into a whole way of creativity I’d never considered before.

But perhaps the most telling day of the project was one where, on the face of it, it may have seemed that we did very little.  The numbers gathering had reduced to a stable core, and we sat in the Gallery at the Dukes for much of one Saturday doing…well, what exactly?  We talked, about many different things.  People explained their research, their ideas for stories, how they might work with Len, Jonny and Rebecca, the information they were hoping yet to obtain, their past experiences, their future projects.  We all spent as much time listening as speaking and each of us was heard.  It was the very democracy of it, the equal weight of everyone’s ideas no matter their age, background or experience that stood out.

One of the questions Jonny asked when interviewing us for the documentary was ‘who owns history?’

One answer to that is those with the confidence, time and resources to research it, and tell others of their findings.  ‘Port Stories’ has been a project that has broadened that sense of ownership of history in a powerful, and extremely enjoyable way.