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Derwent Living has come a long way since it was founded by local building society manager Francis Eric Naylor and Ilkeston solicitor Herbert Brewer from a small office above an estate agency in 1964. To mark its golden anniversary the business decided that such a significant landmark needed to be celebrated in a major way.
Birthdays are made special by those they are shared with, so two events were planned: a fun day out for staff and their families, and a more formal corporate event. We also drew up plans to create a special exhibition website, a commemorative book, and a documentary to chronicle everything from the years leading up to the creation of Derwent Housing Association Ltd. in 1964 right through to the modern day and our plans for the future.
What we didn’t know at the start was just how much information about the early years of the company had been lost over the years…
- Telling our story
- Fancy dress and football
- Modern history
- Taking it on the road
- Opening a new chapter
- Raising a glass
- Drinks and a movie
Telling our story
Adventures among the archives
Initially we didn’t know what we’d be able to find out about the very early days of our organisation. Almost all of the very early history had been lost during office moves apart from legal documents. Changes to teams meant other historical literature and photographs had been destroyed or misplaced.
Talking to former Derwent Living colleagues we were able to fully trace our history back to around 1979, but there were 15 years where there was lots of information to find. We wanted to go all the way back to 1964, and beyond – in the years leading up to the formation of the organisation.
Information on the Internet was very limited. Fortunately, the local studies library, next door to the former Derwent Housing Society offices on Iron Gate, is a hidden gem – run by people who genuinely care about the work that they are doing and the stories they are preserving. Without that archive, much of the Derwent Living story would have been lost forever. Anyone who has an interest in local history should definitely have a look.
The real eureka moment came when we discovered an article about the formation of the association, covering the reasons why it had been created, the hopes of the founding members and how the business would operate on a day-to-day basis in the future. Using the names from there opened other avenues of investigation. An appeal that went out in the local media, including a live broadcast with Andy Potter of BBC Radio Derby.
We were fortunate that Sue Baker, who worked with Thompson and Partners from 1973 then Derwent Housing Society saw our appeal and came forward. She helped us check facts and prompted memories, which created yet more leads.
The research project, development of the book and the associated website and documentary took around seven months, with writing, proofing and fact checking taking a further three to four. The project has been rewarding, moving, infuriating and exhausting in equal measure, but we’re are delighted in what we have been able to achieve.
Fancy dress and football
Never ones to miss out on an opportunity to dress up, festivities began on 22 May (the actual date of the anniversary) with staff dressing up in 1960s outfits and decorating their work areas. The finance department won the team fancy dress competition, which is an excellent excuse to use this picture of group accountant Matt Rickards in his outfit.
The next day, after work, colleagues took part in a staff celebration. The fun event had something for everyone, and included bouncy castles and face painting for the kids. There was also an 11-a-side football match, which had attracted quite a bit of friendly rivalry and banter in the preceding days. As the marketing manager’s team lost 1-0 we’ll not dwell on the result, but he has vowed revenge next year.
From charity activity undertaken over the two days, a total of over £300 was raised for good causes, the amount was split three ways between the Royal British Legion, Treetops Hospice and Derventio Housing, a housing trust that supports people who are homeless and vulnerable. A £100 lump sum was also donated by Derby-based aero-engine manufacturer Rolls Royce.
The Derwent Living at 50 website
The first fruits of our research was the commemorative website, derwentlivingat50.com. Containing a rich outline of quotes, archival news images and historical analysis, it was created with modern, responsive design principles which means it was written to work on all modern devices including smartphones, tablets and desktop PCs.
Taking it on the road
In the final week of July 2014, the resident involvement team went out and about visiting schemes across the Midlands on a special roadshow to celebrate the 50th anniversary year.
They hired a restored classic Volkswagen camper van, driving to various locations across the region; from the oldest property currently owned by Derwent Living, located in Rugby Avenue, Alfreton, to the most recent construction, one of 36 homes at Chewton Street in Eastwood.
The team, all dressed in 1960s gear, were using the VW camper van as a highly visible ‘hippie’ icon, attracting the attention of customers, then giving out information on how to get more involved with Derwent Living’s initiatives and activities, while also relating a brief history of the organisation for anyone interested to learn more.
“We wanted to talk to customers and see how we can help them get more involved as well as talk about the organisation’s history. With such nice weather and an eye-catching 60s camper van, lots of residents turned out and we got a lot of positive feedback.”
Opening a new chapter
Creating the commemorative book
To chronicle Derwent Living’s remarkable history the team created a special 50th anniversary book, called 50 Years of Derwent Living. It contains a foreword by legendary film director Ken Loach.
The chapters each deal with a decade of political history, and Derwent Living’s response to the prevailing conditions of that time.
Raising a glass
Derwent 1964 commemorative pale ale
Local brewery Dancing Duck helped Derwent to celebrate its 50th anniversary by creating a special beer, Derwent 1964. The brewery’s owner, Rachel Matthews, once worked at Derwent Living and she was extremely keen to be involved with the celebrations.
Peter McCormack, Derwent Living’s chief executive, said “We thought it was a great idea to create a special beer to mark the occasion, and it was especially important that a local brewer helped us do that”.
The commemorative pale ale was available on draught from mid-October 2014 at a number of Derbyshire pubs including the New Zealand Arms in Derby. Collection tins placed at these bars raised funds for Derbyshire charity Derventio Housing Trust, which helps provide support for the homeless and vulnerable.
The beer proved exceedingly popular, selling out at the Exeter less than a week. At the time of writing fingers are crossed that more can be produced to keep up with demand.
Drinks and a movie
The documentary and the corporate event
After a hectic year – from research to roadshows, books to beer – to cap it all we decided to create a film charting Derwent Living’s progress. As if this wasn’t hard enough to do well, we also decided to up the stakes and hire a theatre for its premiere.
Skeleton Productions, based in Nottingham, were chosen to bring the film to life. They took to the streets, shooting locations such as Derwent Living’s scheme at Cavendish Court in Derby and the company’s old office building at The Strand. Interviews with John Martin, Peter McCormack and Suzy Brain England were filmed in late September 2014, as well as involved residents Joan Lonnon, Bob Bhogal and Steven Millward.
On Wednesday October 15th this made its debut to 120 ex-board members, long-standing employees, guests and involved residents at the Derby Theatre. This was also the first opportunity to show the book to people, with everyone in attendance receiving a copy.
Next day a series of showings were held for colleagues so that everyone had a chance to see it, and to get their copy of the book.