One of the most extraordinary community projects I have ever been involved with is up for a national award. The ‘Digging the Reno’ excavation, a community project investigating the remains of a Manchester nightclub demolished in 1986, has been shortlisted as a finalist in the National Lottery Awards – for more information, visit http://www.lotterygoodcauses.org.uk/project/excavating-reno Voting finishes on the 27th July 2018 so you just have time to log on and cast your ballot!
So why was this project so extraordinary? Firstly it was a project that looked at the late 20th century Afro-Caribbean heritage of Hulme in Manchester through its archaeology. Secondly, it was conceived and driven by a local Hulme resident, artist and playwright Linda Brogan, who first visited the Reno over four decades ago aged 16. Thirdly, the Reno project used oral history and archaeology to explore the story of a Manchester soul and funk club that became a sanctuary from racism for 50s-born mixed heritage people in the 1970s. In the process is brought back together many of the locals who had used the club, re-establishing an alternative community through the medium of contemporary archaeological research.
The community archaeology team from the University of Salford’s Centre for Applied Archaeology were the enablers in this process, providing help and guidance in setting up and running a dig. They, though, were not the main authors of the activity – that was the local community.
The experience of excavating the Reno in 2017 eloquently demonstrates three issues in dealing with the archaeology of the immediate past. Firstly, the scale of 20th-century industrial and urban archaeology, and the consequent problems in recording this. Here was a large basement from an Edwardian warehouse converted into a social club in the 1950s retaining its lino flooring and wall-paper, for instance. Secondly, how we record such sites whilst maintaining a uniquely archaeological perspective. There was an interaction between the archaeological process and oral history that acknowledged that very few images of the interior of The Reno had survived. Finally, the role of 20th-century archaeology as a community experience in promoting excitement and support for the investigation of the recent (and not-so recent) past. The Reno demonstrated the experiential side of archaeology, the excitement of discovery, and the levelling and bonding processes that go with exploring the past together, that anyone who has dug and touched the past, be it 1970s flared jeans or the base of a record deck in this case, knows well.
You can find out more about the excavation on Twitter at @excavatingreno, and at http://thereno.live/about, while an exhibition about the project is also planned for the Whitworth Art Gallery in early 2019. There will also be a fuller account of the dig in a forthcoming issue of Current Archaeology. In the meantime please do vote for The Reno here: http://www.lotterygoodcauses.org.uk/project/excavating-reno