A Five Year Project to change the ‘Essex Girl’ Stereotype.
The Essex Girls Project was a started in 2014 and was added to continuously until 2019. The aim of the project was to fight back against the ‘Essex Girl’ stereotype that has somewhat defined the county for several decades. The idea of a ‘typical Essex Girl’ can be detrimental to a person in social situations or in the workplace and the project wished to change these derogatory perceptions by showing the history of Essex women from the witch trials to the fight for equality in the form of a documentary.
Over the duration of the project we worked with over 45 young people aged between 11 and 25 years old and not only helped them develop new skills, but also discover some of their heritage and history and create a piece of work that they can be happy with and which would be appealing to other young people. This blog covers all the amazing work that the young people put into the project from its conception to its completion, showcasing the animation, video, photography and documentary skills that they developed throughout the project.
‘Essex Girls’ was funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund – Young Roots programme.
Early Workshops and Talks
The project kicked off with some initial workshops and a visit to the Essex Records Office to gain some valuable insight and inspiration. The workshops helped the young people develop their skills in filmmaking, photography, web design and animation, all skills that they would implement throughout the project.
We were filmmakers turned historians when it came to the Boudica section of the documentary. In order to gain the necessary knowledge of the period we visited some Archaeological Sites as well as the Colchester Archaeological Trust where we interviewed historian, Phillip Crummy.
This culminated in a recreation of Boudica’s march into Colchester, as we filmed an actress as she portrayed the “Warrior Queen” around Castle Park.
The Witches portion of the documentary required our young filmmakers to delve into the dark and gloomy dungeons of Colchester Castle.
Conducting interviews and recreations, we managed to get into the mind of Essex women who had been accused of witchcraft, which gave us a much a better insight into that time period.
Suffragettes of Essex
In late 2014 we visited Dr Jane Pearson at Hollytrees Museum to interview her for the suffragette section of the documentary.
We also created stop motion animations to go along with her interview. These animations were created over the course of three days across three weeks and showed off the plight that these women fought against.
Essex Women in War Time – WWI
The WWI section of the project gave us the opportunity to tour the Crittal Windows Factory and gain perspective on what it may have been like for women working there.
We also interviewed historian, Paul Rusicki, as well as taking another trip back to the Essex Record Office to pick the brains of Tim Laurd, whose Great Aunt had been a nurse on the frontline during the war.
Essex Women in War Time – WWII
We were lucky enough to interview some incredible women for the WWII section of the project. These women ranged from those who were children during the war, to those who served in the army and workforce.
We also managed to squeeze a game or two of Bingo in between these interviews as well.
1968 Dagenham Strike
We took over Colchester’s streets for our recreation of the 1968 Dagenham Ford strikes. We invited a group of hairdressers to play the part of the protesters and we marched through Colchester’s streets with banners aloft.
We added to this recreation by interviewing Dr Pamela Cox from the University of Essex, who is an expert in this area, who gave is a gripping and passionate account of what this moment in history did for Women across Essex and the rest of the country.
Adding to Dagenham
As 2014 ticked over into 2015 we decided that more could be added to the Dagenham strike section of the project. This led us to go and interview the women who work at Ford today, and get their perspective on the event and how they feel about the ‘Essex Girl’ moniker.
We also interviewed former MEP, Richard Howitt, who recalled his mother’s working life while he was growing up.
Post-Production and Evaluation
2015 saw the initial shooting wrap up with some interviews with modern Essex women regarding their feeling towards the ‘Essex girl’ stereotype.
We also held editing workshops with the young people so that they could hone their skills before we started taking the footage that we had collected over several months to the chopping block.
The initial project culminated with a screening of the ‘Essex Girls’ documentary at Firstsite in Colchester. This was an opportunity for the people who had worked on the project, their friends and their family to see the fruits of their labour and show off their achievements from the last year.
In 2016 we brought back the Essex Girls project back and took it in to schools. The aim was to have workshops where we had kids make animations based around the project.
We visited Stanway Primary School where we let the kids use their own initiative and imagination to create an animation based on the Dagenham Ford strikes.
As with Stanway, we visited Colchester’s Iceni Academy for another animation workshop, this time choosing the Suffragettes as out theme.
We were incredibly proud of the children of Iceni academy when the animation was nominated for an award at the 2017 Into Film Awards. The film was nominated for Best Documentary in the under 12’s category.
Returning to Essex Girls
The project was put on hold for a couple of years, but made a return in 2019. Due to the #MeToo movement and the change in the social discourse towards women’s rights we felt that the ‘Essex Girls’ project had become more significant than it may have been initially.
We were also asked by a local film festival if they were able to use the film and so it was important to bring it back. Our own Jamie Weston organised the shooting of a narration for the documentary, and Frazer Merrick added a soundtrack to complete the five year long project.