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The Workhouse community project is now complete

Wig Sayell, Creative Arts Teacher at Banbury and Bicester College, was awarded funding by the National Lottery / Arts Council England to undertake the Workhouse Community Project to explore the history of British culture.

The idea for the project came from Wig’s research into the Victorian era and photographic portraiture from the period. Those entering into a workhouse would often have their photographs taken as a part of the documentation that was required when they came into the care of the state. Following another example of Victorian portraiture; carte de visite (cheap, flattering, commercial portraits) Wig decided to create images that echo this style and focussed on the stories of individuals from the past and their experiences.


Wig invited people who originated from other EU countries who are now living in and around Banbury to take part and assist with investigating the British culture and attitudes to people in need and how this has or has not changed since the Victorian institution of the workhouse.

The project kicked off with a visit to a workhouse site in Chipping Norton, the Chipping Norton Museum and a talk about Victorian life and the experiences people had in the workhouse. The group then began working in the medium of photography, taking photos of the workhouse, self-portraits and personal items. The work was then collated into a series of frames to display each individual’s work. The project was exhibited at the Creative Arts end of year show at Banbury and Bicester College.

Wig said: “It was fantastic to work with people originating from outside the UK to explore a key aspect of British social history. I think that we achieved an interesting and though-provoking exhibition and like the Victorian portraits, the images that we produced hinted at the individuals’ stories, but withhold any certain truth. The questions of who these people are, why there are here and why these images represent them mirror the historical photographs beautifully.”

The exhibition will run from July 15 to 2 September at the South Street Gallery within the Churchill Hospital in Oxford, where it will be part of the Artslink programme at NHS hospitals. For more information, please visit: