Sound and vision blog

16 February 2011

An Oral History of the Water Industry

Alison Gilmour, project interviewer for An Oral History of the Water Industry, writes:

At the end of last year I completed the mid-project report for An Oral History of the Water Industry and this has given me the opportunity to reflect on the thematic contribution of the collection. Naturally, the collection will be of interest to researchers with an interest in the history of the water industry or of key events such as the formation of Water Authorities following the 1973 Water Act or of the process of privatisation. Equally, researchers of the future with an interest in processes, methods and technology used in the industry will find much use in this archive.

Yet, due to the life story interview method used within National Life Stories, these recordings also serve a wider social history purpose due to the exploration during interviews of childhood, hobbies, mealtimes, holidays, family relationships, education, and previous employment prior to working in the industry. Furthermore, Rob Perks’ recent article in Oral History has led me to recognise the contribution to be made to business history and organisational studies through narratives on ongoing post-war structural and organisational development within water companies. 

Last year I wrote an article for the National Life Stories 2009/10 Annual Review in which I focused on the life story of Sue Onslow who worked for Wessex Water as a chemist [catalogue ref. C1364/03].  Sue’s life story interview enabled exploration of major developments in the post-war industry including technical, organisational and regulatory changes and the direct impact on her job. Furthermore, in the interview she also spoke about the taken for granted attitude commonly held towards water provision and waste-water treatment in part related to much of the work in this industry being out of sight and therefore out of mind. This is a rich, multi-layered interview highlighting the hidden depths of the little-documented history of this industry. 

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