The historic Sunny Bank Mills Archive, one of the most significant and substantial woven textile archives in the UK, has been transformed by a £40,000 grant from The National Lottery Heritage Fund.

The Archive, an integral part of the award-winning Sunny Bank Mills complex in Farsley, near Leeds, has used this grant to work in partnership with a nearby inclusive learning centre.

The Mills, which were originally built in 1829, have been in the Gaunt family for six generations and are currently owned and managed by cousins John and William.

The Gaunts set up Sunny Bank Mills Ltd, a not-for-profit company in 2017 to safeguard the historic textile archive at Sunny Bank Mills and the Archive has gone from strength to strength since then. It is curated by Rachel Moaby.

Rachel explained: “This generous grant from The National Lottery Heritage Fund has proved to be absolutely transformational for us. One of the key lessons we learned from being locked down during the global pandemic was that we needed to be much more accessible – and this grant has enabled us to do exactly that. It’s been a game-changer.

“We have been working in partnership with the Post 16 department at West Leeds Specialist Inclusive Learning Centre (SILC) Powerhouse based in Farsley. We have used this collaboration, called Weaving the Web, to help to create lasting connections and exciting new projects at the Archive.
“This has proved tremendously exciting and productive. It has not only benefited the students but has also increased the knowledge of our staff and volunteers at Sunny Bank Mills. Working in tandem with West Leeds SILC’s work-related learning programme, we have built much more inclusive web design and content, helping to promote inclusivity and accessibility at the archive.

“We feel this work is so important, both for us and for West Leeds SILC, whose students have a range of learning needs including Asperger’s, Autism, Cerebral Palsy and Downs Syndrome. They have really benefited from this project – as have we,” said Rachel.

“As a result of this grant, the Farsley community and West Leeds SILC students have been invited to experience the rich heritage of the Archive in person. The equipment, including digital cameras, tripods and a light box, and training facilitated by this grant has given us the tools to create and continue workshops for years to come. With digital input and increased website access, a whole new audience has been reached,” she added.
As a result, an exciting record of the objects in the Archive, including typewriters, old telephones, suit jackets and an old-fashioned calculator, has been created through 360 photography.

“Overall, this is a most fantastic fusion of the old and the new, the past and the present, bringing our wonderful Archive to vibrant life in the 21st century,” added Rachel.

William Gaunt commented: “We were delighted to be recognised by The National Lottery Heritage Fund in what has become a transformational project for the Sunny Bank Mills Archive. The grant has allowed the archive to invest in equipment and skills to make it accessible online to not just the community from which it was borne, but to all corners of the wider community that want to see it.”

The nationally important Sunny Bank Mills Archive consists of: fabric records including over 300 guard books containing thousands of textile cuttings; 60,000 lengths of fabric; 8,000 fabric designs; 5,000 wool dyeing recipe cards; 100 leather bound ledgers and cash books; weaving looms; photographs and memorabilia and a library of mill-related books.

On the closure of a mill, the textile records are generally thrown in the skip. Therefore, sadly, 99% of West Yorkshire’s textile archives have been lost. The Gaunt family, however, were adamant that Sunny Bank Mills’ heritage should be preserved for future generations, so when the mill closed in 2008, all the mill records were carefully set aside.

William explained: “It is important to John and I that the Archive has a secure future beyond our lifetimes for generations to come, so The National Lottery Heritage grant has meant a great deal to us. The management, restoration, conservation, preservation, use and promotion of the Archive here is absolutely crucial.

“Thanks to The National Lottery players, this important and exciting project is now taking place, helping to create lasting connections with all our community and their heritage.”