Manchester Histories Festival goes Digi.

By Karen Shannon, CEO Manchester Histories

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Manchester Histories is ordinarily a very public-facing organisation, we work across Greater Manchester to reveal, share and celebrate the diverse and often hidden histories of people and places. We connect people together to explore the past and shape the future through histories and heritage.

Our model of responding to communities, developing skills and confidence, and raising awareness of often little recognised histories, by working alongside people and partners as widely as possible, is unique in the UK.  Our engagement with and empowerment of people, both as creators and audiences is entirely in response to the people we work with and for. As a result, our work is naturally innovative, creative and different. But like many cultural organisations and festivals across Greater Manchester and the world, we have had to stop, delay, re-think and adjust to new ways of working due to Covid-19.

In lockdown the team has had moved over to remote working, using digital communication channels such as Zoom, Whatsapp, and Google Hangouts to meet virtually to review and reframe our work plans. As a team we have always been agile, as we have no venue, and we often work from home, or are seen visiting our communities, so not being office bound was not new to us. Although, we do miss a cup of tea together, sharing stories and the comfort of meeting people in the flesh, such as our friends at Manchester Centre for Public History and Heritage and all of our volunteers.

The people and partners we work with are very important to us and despite the lockdown we wanted to ensure we continued to connect with people and our audiences. It is crucial we mark these times, we are making history, we are living through history’s largest ever lockdown, in a period that will be taught in history lessons all over the world in years to come.

We had to cancel Manchester Histories Festival due to take place in June 2020. However, we will now present our first ever DigiFest, taking place on Friday 4th & Saturday 5th September 2020. Manchester Histories DigiFest 2020 will mark the 50-year anniversary of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act (CSDPA) 1970.  This landmark legislation was pioneered by the late Lord Alf Morris, who subsequently became Britain’s first minister for disabled people in 1974. The themes of the festival are Celebrate – Learn – Challenge.

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Alf Morris was born in 1928 to a working class family in Ancoats, Manchester, and raised as one of eight children in quite poor circumstances. He witnessed the struggles of disability first-hand in his own family. Alf entered politics and served as the Labour Co-op MP for Wythenshawe, Manchester, between 1964 and 1997.  He campaigned tirelessly to challenge the barriers that disabled people faced in everyday life. He introduced a Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill in 1991 and went on to establish the Motability Scheme which transformed the lives of so many people. The CSDPA is often described as the Magna Carta for disabled people, this was the first disability rights legislation anywhere in the world and laid the foundations for the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and the Equality Act 2010.

Alf’s most celebrated quote: ‘If we could bequeath one precious gift to posterity, I would choose a society in which there is genuine compassion for long-term sick and disabled people; where understanding is unostentatious and sincere; where needs come before means; where if years cannot be added to their lives, at least life can be added to their years.’


Alf died on 12th August 2012, survived by his wife Irene (Lady Morris) and four children.

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DigiFest 2020 will create a collective on-line space for disabled and non-disabled people to celebrate Alf’s Act, presenting their stories, ideas and content through a pop-up TV Studio, broadcasting live across the globe from Manchester. Working alongside our partners, Manchester Histories DigiFest 2020 will facilitate an open call for digital content and ideas to be submitted by the public, and together we will produce a programme of digital content led by disabled people.

The live broadcast will be a mix of pre-recoded and live content; including performance, comedy, documentary, links to on-line archives, webinars, films, virtual exhibitions, debates and on-line creative interventions.

Going digital seemed the only option for us, it means we can still ‘do something’ around Alf’s Act, and provide a platform for people to talk about important topics that are relevant to disabled people past, present and future. It will be challenge, like most people we will have to learn new digital skills, continue to use social distancing measures to safeguard those we work with and think carefully about how we make the content accessible to all.

But we are all up for it and will make it happen!

Personally, I hope that when this emergency situation is over, we will be able to promote more social solidarity and equality to start to build a better world; we have the opportunity to make new histories, where the attention will be on we and us and not I. A new history that is more respectful of nature, each other, less consumerist, less frenetic in our approach to life.

We will be releasing more information about Manchester Histories DigitFest 2020 this month, please keep an eye out on our website:  Also, sign up to our newsletter to keep in touch. We will also release more details about the Celebration Day, once lockdown measures are clear and more certain.

Manchester Histories DigiFest 2020 is a collaborative programme between The University of Manchester, the family of the late Lord Morris of Manchester, Manchester Metropolitan University, University of Manchester’s Students’ Union, the TUC (Manchester), Manchester City Council and the Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People.

For more information on other projects we have delivered please see:

Follow us on

Twitter: @mcrhistfest

Facebook: @manchesterhistories

Instagram: manchesterhistories





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