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London’s first ever women’s museum hopes to ‘balance the history books’

PUBLISHED: 07:00 31 January 2018 | UPDATED: 09:52 31 January 2018

The launch of the East End Women's Museum which is to be built opposite Barking Abbey.

The launch of the East End Women's Museum which is to be built opposite Barking Abbey.

Archant

As women march the streets of London for gender equality and the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage gets ever closer, the East End Women’s Museum, which aims to “balance the history books”, starts to take shape in.

Hayley Anderson finds out more.

The launch of the East End Women's Museum which is to be built opposite Barking Abbey. The launch of the East End Women's Museum which is to be built opposite Barking Abbey.

Despite what many would think, change is not always inevitable.

Change is most often brought on by the actions, determination and initiative of individuals, in the hope that their voices will be heard and their views listened to.

This is why a small group of women decided to recognise those voices throughout the centuries and celebrate them in the form of a museum.

The East End Women’s Museum is a public history project aiming to record, share and commemorate women’s stories from east London’s history.

And after establishing its website two years ago, guests, including granddaughter of suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst, Helen Pankhurst, were welcomed to The Broadway Theatre, in Barking, last Wednesday, for a VIP event to launch its residency in Barking.

It was announced at the event that a museum is set to open in a permanent home nearby the Abbey Ruins, as part of the Barking Wharf development at the end of 2019.

Barking and Dagenham Council and housing developer Be Living are helping to bring the museum’s home to life, while the team continues to work alongside Ilford charity the Eastside Community Heritage to help shape its collection.

Co-founder Sarah Huws said: “Women make history too.

“But without their voices and experiences the history books are only telling half the story.

“We want to put women back in the picture, and share new perspectives on east London’s rich history.

“We believe Barking and Dagenham is the right base for the museum and we’re excited to start working in the borough this year.

“Everyone we’ve spoken to has had a story to share: about a woman from their family, their street, or their community, and we know there are many more still to be told.”

The event’s honorary guest Ms Pankhurst - who is a women’s rights campaigner - spoke about the importance of the project.

“That link between history, the present, the past and the future, it is important that we treasure that and we work with it”, she said.

“Yes, you can have a museum talking about the past but it is really giving greater visibility to parts of the past that were not looked at before and it’s saying “what does that mean to us now” and it’s saying “what can it mean for us in the future”.

“I have a personal link with the east end because of Sylvia and all of her work here.

“Her values and the values of a lot of the campaigners of the east end of London actually epitomise that thing of the past and that’s the spirit that the museum has and we have going forward.”

Rewinding back to 2015, excitement continued to mount as a building in Cable Street, Tower Hill, was billed to become a museum dedicated to celebrating women’s history in east London.

However, anticipation turned into disappointment as the venue instead opened as a museum dedicated to the crimes of Jack the Ripper, branded by many as a “sick joke”.

This was the moment that drove Sarah Jackson and Sarah Huws to set up the project on a voluntary basis, before community heritage expert Judith Garfield joined the team a year later.

Founding member Sarah said: “We are very excited about our new home. But there’s also a lot of work to do, fundraising and building up a collection, as well as talking to women and girls across east London about what they’d like to see in their museum.

“We’re so grateful for all the goodwill and support we’ve received over the last two years, and we hope that our supporters are as excited as we are that the East End Women’s Museum will soon become a reality, something they have helped make possible.”

To celebrate the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage, the museum will be hosting a programme of events and pop-up exhibitions throughout the year to mark the occasion.

For more information or to have your say on what you think should be featured in the East End Women’s Museum, visit here

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