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Steel Stories

19 April 2019

Twelve months of community engagement and research came into fruition in April when “Steel Stories” opened its doors to the public at Redcar’s Kirkleatham Museum.

The sights, sounds and smells of steel-making form one of the most relevant and evocative exhibitions forged on Teesside in recent years. Steel Stories puts visitors in the shoes of the workers whose toil shaped our industrial heritage whilst also looking at Redcar’s current industry and the future of the region.

On entering the museum, visitors are able to dress-up and clock-in as steelworkers before visiting a lab with samples of the raw materials used in the steel-making process, as well as diagrams, literature and video footage illustrating the processes involved.

The centrepiece is a 3D printed model of the Redcar blast furnace made by two local apprentices from the firm Primetals Technologies Ltd. – a legacy company of Davy Ashmore who originally designed the furnace and who hold the original 1970s technical drawings in their company’s archive.

Other highlights include a recreation of a locker room, which offers a unique experience of day-to-day life for many in the iron and steel industry. There are interviews with former steelworkers talking about their experiences and a timeline which details the history of iron and steel on Teesside from the mid-19th century onwards. The final gallery explores the closure of SSI UK, and efforts to rejuvante Teesside now and inthe future. This is all topped of with an archive show reel of films from years gone by.

Leo Croft, Redcar & Cleveland Borough Council’s Steel Stories Project Officer, said: “Over the past year we’ve had amazing support from local people, including ex-steel workers and their families, who have taken the time to share their incredible Steel Stories with us.”

Many of the items on display have been donated by the community, “including a section of an iron pole used by the first women, Nancy Lewis, to light a foundry furnace back in 1942. Nancy brought the pole in herself and told us all about her experiences, describing working in the furnace as ‘Hell’s kitchen’.

“We’ve put together what we think is the museum’s best exhibition yet. We’ve designed it to be informative and fun for both adults and children. It’s interactive and noisy … about the only thing we couldn’t recreate was the heat from the furnaces!”

The exhibition is free of charge and will be on display at Kirkleatham Museum in Redcar until April 2020.

Steel Stories is directly funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the SSI Task Force: Legacy Projects and Arts Council England. The project is in direct partnership with Teesside University and Tees Valley Museums and has received additional support from British Steel, Primetals, South Tees Development Corporation, North East Film Archive and Materials Processing Institute, as well as many groups and individuals as part of a wider project steering group.