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Growing up in Britain at the Museum of Youth Culture

The world’s first museum dedicated to growing up celebrates Britain’s pioneering role in youth culture and self-expression

Calling all former New Romantics, punks, Mods and Rockers: Britain’s first museum devoted to youth culture needs you to turn out your cupboards, retrieve photos of your youthful selves and send them in. Don’t worry about how wacky you might look! You will be helping preserve history. The non-profit Museum of Youth Culture has digitalised more than 16,000 photographs and forty expert curated exhibits for users to explore the country’s rich social history from post-war Britain to the present day.

Founder Jo Swinstead has been working on this project for over two decades. Commenting on his vision for the Museum, Swinstead said: “Around 20 years ago I recognised the value of the unique cultural and social journey of young people. The Museum of Youth Culture is all about preserving stories, photos and memories that would otherwise be lost and inspiring people young and old through celebrating our collective memory of life in the UK over the past 100 years. The Grown up in Britain campaign allows us to ask everyone to be part of the Museum and help us tell the story of youth culture through their journey. We’ve been amazed at some of the incredible submissions we’ve received so far.”

Grown up in Britain, a project that is still welcoming submission of any kind, from home footage of a teen punk band to a photograph of Florence Reeves, a 1920s flapper riding a motorcycle wearing high heels and young women in modest swimsuits in the 1930s and 1980s girls in Ra Ra skirts. It is a place to learn about music, fashion, nightlife and culture around the UK exploring trends, sounds, scenes and social movements of young people in Britain over the last 100 years.

Before the pandemic the Museum ran culture reminiscing sessions and scanning events in care homes around the UK sparking memories and wellbeing. The curators met Rose, a former NHS nurse at one such session in Thamesmead and she submitted a photo of herself in her bedroom, listening to Bob Marley on her Danette record player, in her youth. Rose had moved to London from Nigeria in the late 1960s to work as a nurse in the NHS.

Another highlight of the Museum’s collection is ‘Sharon’, an image of Sharon Long and her classmates on the beach during a carefree school trip in the 1970s.

Swinstead believes that youth and subculture is a catalyst for self-expression and enables positive change for young people. He explains, “Education is an integral part of what people do, as we equip young people with skills and the power of self-expression to help them think and do ‘bigger’. We work with schools, youth and community groups to deliver creative led workshops for young people.” If your children are complaining of feeling bored over this long summer, encourage them to take images of themselves and their friends, recording how they dressed, played and spent their time this pandemic summer for future generations. It is now rather shocking to look at photos taken during the 1980s and see teenagers smoking in pubs, thick with acrid smoke.

Funding for the project has come from more than 200 patrons, including the Heritage Fund, the British Arts Council and the clothing brand Fred Perry and the museum hopes to open a physical museum in a city which has had and still has a big youth culture scene, such as London, Birmingham or Manchester by 2023. It will be the first of its kind in the world housing a core collection of photos, clothing, artefacts and videos, but will feature exhibitions and educational events. For the time being the museum remains online. You can be part of this museum by sending in your youthful snaps, video and clothing. Do you cringe looking at photos of yourself squeezed into a Suzi Quatro skin-tight jumpsuit, with a Mohican haircut or panda-eyed, gloomy Gothic look. Send them to the Museum of Youth Culture who will appreciate your youthful creativity and they will become part of history.

Rebecca Wallersteiner
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