Protest Lab opens celebrating Sheffield’s history of activism

A new exhibition has opened at the Millenium Gallery celebrating Sheffield’s history of protest and activism. The Protest Lab has been described as an experimental, vocal, social space where views are shared and ideas are challenged.

The gallery runs from 18th March to 21st May, ahead of next year’s 100th anniversary of the 1918 Representation of the People Act, which granted some women the vote, and all men over the age of 21.

It features political banners, pin badges and artefacts that have been loaned by the general public, some of whom participated in the largest protests of the 20th century, including the 1984 miners’ strike.

Interaction is encouraged by visitors, with a historical timeline on the wall for the public to record their own experiences of activism, which could feature next year at the protest galleries split between Weston Park Museum and the Millenium Gallery.

The timeline ranges from the nineteenth-century Chartist movement in Sheffield, right up to the present day trees and anti-Trump protests in the city.

The only rules: no intolerance, discrimination, disrespect, hate speech or trolling allowed.

The curator of the project, Louisa Briggs, thinks there needs to be better representation of Sheffield’s radical history in local museum collections.

“It’s a two-year exhibition and research project. It’s about collecting stories of protests and objects for the collections. Although Sheffield has a rich history of protest, it’s not something that’s very well represented in museum collections.

With the Protest Lab, what we wanted to do is to ask visitors what stories and causes were important to them, and what objects they’d like to see in the exhibitions that we’re having next year around protests.”

Mrs Briggs also emphasises the lack of women’s history in Sheffield museum collections.

“Although Adela Pankhurst was located in Sheffield for a while, and there was a women’s social and political union here with the offices on Chapel Walk, that’s not something we represent in the collections at all.

“That is something we are hoping we will be able to pull out through the exhibitions next year, and that is something in Sheffield’s history that is really, really significant.

“Even in this exhibition, we have a case of objects from the Sheffield Women Against Pit Closures, that were a really significant group during the Miners’ Strike, and were active afterwards. We really want to pick up on those individual stories.”

Mrs Briggs says the response from visitors so far has been “overwhelming”.

Protest Lab and the forthcoming Sheffield: Protest and Activism programme is generously supported by the Esmée Fairbairn Collection Fund.

Ash Smith

MA Broadcast Journalism student. Wannabe golfer and football fanatic.