Cottoning on to Oldham retail park's textile mill past with sculpture and poetry

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The historic past of a retail park in Oldham that was once the site of Britain’s newest and largest textile mill has been recaptured in sculpture and poetry. Two sculptures titled ‘The Spinners’ and ‘Belts and Pulleys’ by Emma Hunter at Elk Mill shopping park have been embellished with poetry gathered from people’s personal stories by poet and playwright Cathy Crabb.

Emma said: “With ‘The Spinners’ the intention was to collect and include local stories, the  ‘yarns’ that highlight the importance of the people and communities working in the cotton industry in the past but also at Elk Mill currently.  ’Belts and Pulleys’ uses salvaged wheels in the creation of a new balancing act, where the wheels are now static, but to a passer-by reading the poetry on the sculpture they seem to be in motion.”   

Cathy recruited a group of locals, some with connections to the mill, and at workshops at Oldham library and Age Concern, they created stories based on their memories of Elk Mill or the surrounding area. Cathy converted the stories into haiku which are embedded within the "cotton cop" yarns of the structure, and appear in Urdu and Bengali as well as English. The public can read these words by turning a wheel.

The poetry created by Cathy that features on the sculpture references the machinery and processes of the cotton spinning, using words such as “click, draw, vroom’ to describe the mule puling the cotton back. “Many of the words which come from the cotton mills are still used today and the language used on the sculpture seeks to play on the dual meanings of the past and current day,” she said.

Picture shows three of the workshop story tellers alongside ‘The Spinners’: back, (from left), Elizabeth Poole, Erin Monaghan (13) and  Avis Morris, with (front, left) Cathy Crabb and Emma Hunter

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