Coal, Community and Change Exhibition Design

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How we designed a photographic retrospective charting the final years of the British coal industry.


Paul Fillingham, Founder & Chief Digital Strategist @paulfillingham 

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Coal, Community and Change: Dealing with the past: Mining culture in the East Midlands (1965 – 2015) was made possible through the Nottingham Trent University (NTU) Global Heritage Fund.

Above: Three miners at Warsop Main Colliery in the 1960s. Source: The Coal Authority

NTU Arts and Humanities, Research and Design Collaboration

“Sorting
Exhibition curators, Paul Fillingham, Natalie Braber and David Amos. Source: Mansfield Chad Newspaper Group

The touring exhibition served as a timely retrospective for an industry which came to an end in 2015 with the closure of Britain's last two coal mines; Thoresby Colliery in Nottinghamshire's Dukeries and Kellingley Colliery in North Yorkshire. The exhibition also presented an opportunity to engage communities still conflicted by the political upheaval of the 1984 miner's strike.

From the outset, the research team decided to focus on family and community life...

Content Design

In January 2019, Natalie Braber, David Amos and Paul Fillingham began assembling images for a photographic exhibition. For David, a former mineworker, Natalie a sociolinguist, and Paul a miner's son and digital producer, the exhibition was the culmination of several mining heritage projects.

With sensitivities around the 1984 miners' strike being prevalent among certain cohorts in former mining communities, we sought advice from Professor Graham Black who had previous experience curating contested histories in the divided communities of Northern Ireland.

“Sorting
Paul Fillingham and Natalie Braber sorting pictures into major themes for the exhibition. Source: David Amos

From the outset, the research team decided to focus on family and community life rather than the familiar tropes of miners toiling underground. Sifting through private collections and archives at the Chad Newspaper Group and the Coal Authority, there emerged six chronological themes that were within scope of the 50-year period being studied.

Mining Culture Themes 1965 - 2015:

  • Context
  • Social
  • Women
  • Unity
  • Rationalisation
  • Legacies

3D Mockups

“Exhibition
3D maquette for the modular exhibition panels. Source: Paul Fillingham

As the six key themes were broadly chronological we designed six modular exhibition boards that provided a linear timeline. These were visualised electronically and as paper mock-ups. The ability to visualise the boards in sometimes challenging exhibition spaces led to the creation of 3D maquettes using scaled printouts created in Adobe Illustrator.

Digital Interpretation Design

“Digital
Web-based digital interpretation app, running on an Apple iPad. Source: Paul Fillingham

The exhibition also included a collection of audio testimonies that were made available via an iPad. Although web-based, this had to be designed as a stand-alone kiosk application as a reliable internet connection could not be guaranteed at some of the venues.

Exhibition Launch

“Exhibition
Coal, Community and Change Exhibition at Mansfield Museum. Source: Paul Fillingham

The exhibition opened at Mansfield Museum with subsequent venues in Derbyshire, Leicestershire and the National Coal Mining Museum, in Wakefield.

Visitor Feedback

“Margaret
Margaret Thatcher image. Source: National Coal Mining Museum for England (NCMME) Collection

The exhibition included wall-space and an original miners' ballot box from Thoresby Colliery for collecting comments and postcards that allowed visitors to vote for their favourite picture in the show. Aware of the contentious nature of the 1984 strike, the design team had the foresight to print spare images of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher which was replaced on a number of occasions due to acts of expression by exhibition visitors. Some of the venues were embarrassed to report that Margaret had been vandalised, however, the team recognised these acts as being a valid response to the exhibition.

Modular Design

“Modular
A contractor removes one of the modular panels as the exhibition moves from Harworth to the National Coal Mining Museum for England.

The exhibition concluded in the Autumn, with a seminar held at Nottingham Trent University. The modular panels proved to be quite robust and survived an extensive tour around the East Midlands and Yorkshire. The team received requests from local heritage centres and libraries who wanted to host the exhibition, however the panels proved too unwieldy to transport and set-up in smaller venues.

Coal, Covid and beyond

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A more compact version of the exhibition was planned for January 2020, but due to Coronavirus, venues had to close and tour dates were postponed. With the country in lockdown, Thinkamigo designed a web-based version of the exhibition so that it can be accessed online via our heritage website; www.miningheritage.co.uk

“Design
Coal, Community and Change, exhibition poster.
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