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Young Producers launch a new trail at The Whitaker about Rossendale’s shoe making heritage

By Helen Thackray, Director of Blaze Arts

Blaze Arts is a youth-led arts organisation based in Burnley that supports young people to deliver their own creative projects across Lancashire. We’re passionate about creating opportunities for young people to develop their confidence, creativity and skills.

In 2022 we started working with staff at The Whitaker who are keen to invite more young people to engage with the venue, and explore what it can offer them.

In October 2023 we brought together a group of 13 – 16 year olds from the local area who were interested in delivering a project at The Whitaker and finding out about Rossendale’s history of shoemaking. We called the project Future Soles.

For over three months the Young Producers met every week with artist Sophie Gibson who supported them to explore the local heritage and develop their creative ideas. Early in the project, the group visited Stubbylee Hall to see the collection of old shoes currently being conserved by volunteers at Valley Heritage.

During the visit, they saw photos of inside the factories where slippers and shoes were once made. They were surprised to learn that at one time, around 72,000 pairs of shoes were being produced in Rossendale every week! During the visit, they also had a go on the old sewing machines and learnt about conservation processes. 

In other sessions, the group talked about how shoes and clothes are made today and the ethical issues within the fashion industry. The group agreed that fast fashion is contributing to climate change but choosing more sustainable clothing is often unaffordable. They want to encourage people to consider buying second-hand clothes or upcycling to reduce waste.

Uzma Raziq from Super Slow Way also visited the group from to talk about Homegrown/Homespun a regenerative fashion project that has seen flax grown in Lancashire, spun into thread and woven into fabric. Feeling inspired, the group took a trip to Manchester and explored charity shops in search of shoes that could be upcycled or transformed into artworks. Whilst in the city they also visited Manchester Art Gallery to see the exhibition Dandy Style 25 years of British Men’s Fashion.

In the final weeks of the project, the group worked with Sophie to create a new trail around The Whitaker that will introduce visitors to the valley’s unique shoe-making heritage. They agreed that the trail should explain the Who? What? Why? When? and be suitable for a range of ages.

In early February 2023, the group launched their trail with a special event at The Whitaker where visitors could see the group’s upcycled shoes, have a go at making origami shoes and preview a stop frame animation and a short film about the project, which you can watch below.

The trail is now available for all visitors to enjoy, so pick up a copy from the entrance on your next visit and see for yourself what the Young Producers have created!

To find out more about Blaze visit:


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