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21 October - 17 November
FoSS and ESRC logos

A How-To Guide for ‘Making History’: Considering the Case of Public Service Work Today

Lifelong wellbeing theme

What’s on offer?

We are hosting an ‘open studio’ night, inviting the general public to view—or even join!—a new spoken and photographic history project we’re launching. 

The project brings the stories and faces of local public service workers to the fore. We chose this topic given the great respect we hold for our fellow public employees—as well as our knowledge of the common struggles faced across many public service occupations, from budget cuts to burnout. Given the festival’s focus on well-being, we are considering the challenges these workers face in terms of physical, mental and financial wellbeing, as well as practices that are employed to preserve wellbeing where possible.

The event will contain three types of programming, and is designed to be accessible to anyone from teenagers upwards:

(1) An exhibition of the preliminary entries into our project. This will feature quotes from historical interviews; large-scale Polaroid-type portraits; as well as standard digital photography. (2) A ‘studio tour’, showing how social scientists transform brief interviews into historical narratives. Attendees can even ‘make history’ in our ‘historical photo booth’, where we will be taking portraits; conducting short interviews; and printing out materials to include in the exhibition! If you join, you’ll be able to take home the Polaroids on the night. (3) Community space for hosting discussion between various types of public service worker, as well as an interested general audience. Discussion will be supported and facilitated by the research staff, as necessary. We will also have materials on hand to help, such as discussion cards and topic-focused tables, to get the conversation started.

The idea is to tell new and accurate stories, about what it’s like to be a public service worker now.

What’s it about?

The event has three aims:

(1) Documenting and raising awareness about the struggles faced by public service workers today; (2) Providing an opportunity for cross-fertilisation of knowledge across public service occupations, identifying commonalities of struggles as well as highlighting the specific struggles faced in different jobs; (3) Showing an interested general audience how histories are built

We have chosen this context because public service sectors face many pressures from years of austerity, political upheaval, Brexit and the pandemic. Compounding this hostile environment, public services often face a battering in news media. Public workers and organisations are often characterized as inefficient, wasteful, underperforming, and demanding.

This project aspires to be a valuable counterpoint, reminding the general public and policymakers of the hard work and valuable contributions delivered by these sectors. It also demonstrates the difference between evidence-based approaches to discussing public affairs, as opposed to partisan, politicised reporting which can be seen in the news and across social media.

Who’s leading the event?

The University of Leicester Non-Profit Institutions Research Group

Open to

Anyone from their teens upwards with an interest in either public services or history

Of particular interest to

Public service workers, activists, policy-makers, service users, and everyday citizens—including those who are considering future employment in public services