Sunny Bank Mills Archive wins £40,000 National Lottery grant

The historic Sunny Bank Mills Archive, one of the UK's most significant woven textile archives in the UK, has been awarded a £40,000 grant from The National Lottery Heritage Fund.

William Gaunt and Rachel Moaby with a comptometer, which was the first mechanical calculator used in the mill office
William Gaunt and Rachel Moaby with a comptometer, which was the first mechanical calculator used in the mill office

The archive, an integral part of the award-winning Sunny Bank Mills complex in Farsley, near Leeds, is to use the grant to partner with a nearby inclusive learning centre.

The Mills, which were originally built in 1829, have been in the Gaunt family for six generations and are currently owned and managed by cousins John and William.

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The Gaunts set up Sunny Bank Mills, a not-for-profit company, in 2017 to safeguard the historic textile archive.

It is curated by Rachel Moaby, who said: “This generous grant from The National Lottery Heritage Fund is absolutely transformational for us.

"One of the key lessons we learned from being locked down during the global pandemic was that we needed to be much more accessible.

“We will be working in partnership with the Post 16 department at West Leeds Specialist Inclusive Learning Centre (SILC) Powerhouse based in Farsley. We intend to use this

collaboration, called Weaving the Web, to help to create lasting connections and exciting new projects at the archive."

She said the partnership will not only benefit the students, but will also increase the knowledge of the archive's staff and volunteers at Sunny Bank Mills.

"We intend to create youth ambassadors working in tandem with West Leeds SILC’s work-related learning programme to build much more inclusive web design and content, helping to promote inclusivity and accessibility at the archive," she added.

“We feel this work is tremendously important, both for us and for West SILC, whose students have a range of learning needs including Asperger’s, Autism, Cerebral Palsy and Downs Syndrome.

"They will really benefit from this project – as will we. Wherever possible the Farsley community and West SILC students will be invited to experience the rich heritage of the archive in person."

As part of the Weaving the Web programme, Tom Jackson, a freelance photographer and a lecturer in Digital Media at the University of Leeds, will develop a record of

the objects in the archive through 360 photography.

He will also be creating workshops for West SILC students and the local community, as well as building a dynamic interactive inventory of the objects in the archive available through the Sunny Bank Mills website.

John Gaunt said: “We are delighted to be recognised by The National Lottery Heritage Fund in what will be a transformational project for the Sunny Bank Mills Archive.

"The grant will allow the archive to invest in equipment and skills to make it accessible online to not just the community from which it was borne, but to all corners of the wider community that want to see it."

When Georgian and Victorian mills were closed down, their textile records were generally thrown in the skip. As a result, 99 per cent of West Yorkshire’s textile archives have been lost.

The Gaunt family wanted Sunny Bank Mills’ heritage to be preserved for future generations, so when the mill closed in 2008, all the mill records were carefully set aside.

William Gaunt said: “It is important to John and I that the archive has a secure future beyond our lifetimes for generations to come, so The National Lottery Heritage grant means a great deal to us. The management, restoration, conservation, preservation, use and promotion of the archive here is absolutely crucial.”

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