On the Hat trail in Luton
Our second partner in this Greenhouse project was The Hat Factory in Luton. This was once a thriving hat factory and is now an exciting performance venue in the heart of the city.
We started our exploration of Luton by being given the most extraordinary tour from Caroline Wallace, the Community Engagements and Projects Coordinator in Luton. She had arranged for us to visit a number of working hat factories. To our surprise they were all in terraced housing buildings, a cottage industry still hard at it!
Caroline was an absolute gem, introducing us to a wide variety of local people who had been in the hat industry all their lives (some for 3 generations!)
We were shown the techniques making hats, the processes, and the materials. All done by proud women workers, hard grafters, and bloomin lovely too.
The industry, at one time, drew thousands of people to migrate to Luton for work. It was THE place for hat manufacturing. And now, today, only a few small companies remain.
We met two sisters, twins, who had been in this work all their lives. Their grandmother had taught them to sew, to knit, to work with their hands. It was all that they knew how to do. They chatted over each other about the friendship, the community, the sense of belonging, the pride in their work, the skills passed down through their family line. Their hands showed the scars of their hard labour.
Since the hat industry died down, mainly due to a change in fashion (In the 40’s and 50’s, everyone wore hats!) the impact on the town has been great. Still, the women that we met and talked to, still have a huge sense of belonging in this part of the world, due to their work heritage. It seems important to celebrate that!
To have a sense of belonging is a politically pertinent and binding force within society, I felt that Machine Women gave rise to a sense of celebration and acknowledgement with the women we met in Luton.