A team from the Soroptimist International of Salisbury has been busy the during Covid-19 pandemic. They have been researching, interviewing and writing about historic, influential and inspiring women of Salisbury. With funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund and Salisbury City Council, they have created a digital legacy for the city and wider public www.hersalisburystory.com on which you can read about the featured figures and listen to interviews with contemporary women.
On Saturday 16th October The Her Salisbury Story Team organised a celebration event at the Methodist Church to showcase their work so far and the 50+ profiles and interviews on the website already. Among the hundred strong audience were the Mayor of Salisbury Caroline Corbin and MP John Glen as well as several leading authors.
How the project started
Team coordinator, Jenny Hair, outlined the genesis of the project and the challenges faced. The project was launched shortly before the Covid-19 lockdown. The team found libraries, archives and museums closed and face-to-face interviews became impossible. Despite this, the volunteers ploughed on researching online and conducting interviews via Zoom. Jenny praised the dedication of the team of volunteers who have collectively spent hundreds of hours on this project. She also thanked the contemporary women who have agreed to be interviewed.
Early on the team joined the St Thomas’ Christmas Tree Festival. They asked visitors to nominate inspirational women to be part of the project. Endearingly many respondents nominated their mothers!
One of the starting points for the historic women research was ‘Women in Salisbury Cathedral Close’ by Jane Howells and Ruth Newman. Many other women from wider Salisbury were then added to the project. The difficulty in finding information about these women highlighted the way in which women are largely written out of history, or rather not written into history at all, something this project helps to correct.
The team decided to create another sub-project ‘Her Salisbury Footprint‘ to bring these stories to a wider audience. A smaller team developed a walking trail around the city which visits sites of significance to some of the historic women researched. The map shows the route on one side and on the reverse are short histories of the women. Her Salisbury Footprint is now on sale at the Salisbury Information Office for £1. An excellent way to show off the city to family and friends!
In order to nurture the next generation of local young women writers, Cornelia Funke generously offered the prize of a week at her Tuscan Writer’s Retreat for the three winners of a writing competition. Entrants were asked to write poetry or prose, under 1000 words, inspired by one of the women featured on the website or another Salisbury woman. Cornelia was able to attend the event on Saturday, direct from her Tuscan farmhouse, via Zoom. She congratulated the winners Bronwen Steele, Clementine Ebel, Allegra Marland and said she was looking forward to hosting them. Bronwen commented, “I couldn’t be happier. I have always loved writing, both prose and poetry. Winning this prize is a real confidence boost and hopefully a start to a new career.”
A highlight of the afternoon was a live interview with Tracy Daszkiewicz and Susi Mason, two of the women who took on roles supporting the community during the Novichok incident in Salisbury. Their personal reflections on the resilience of Salisbury were insightful and inspiring. These are just two of the many contemporary woman who have been interviewed by project volunteers. You can listen to the interviews in full on the website and discover the wide range of inspiring woman living in Salisbury today.
Check your unconscious bias!
The final speaker was journalist, broadcaster and author, Mary Ann Sieghart, who entertained the audience talking about her book, The Authority Gap. Her research explores the many ways in which women are side-lined, talked over and belittled every day. Why do people give more credence to expert men rather than expert women? Another example was how candidates were judged differently if the hiring person thinks they are male or female. Even women hirers tended to rate men with same qualities higher than females! She could offer no simple solution to this problem. However, the final chapter of her book, ‘No Need to Despair’ offers a variety of ways in which individuals, institutions and society at large can begin to combat this discrimination. Raising awareness of this issue and prompting everyone to be check their unconscious biases is a way to begin the process!
Feedback on the event
Two of the attendees commented:
“A great example of what women can achieve despite the challenges – you have all done a brilliant job despite Covid and a changed landscape, well done”
“excellent project, inspiring day”