Punk in the East: a history project with a difference

Punk in the East documents the history of punk in Norwich from 1976 to 1984 – yet does so ‘from below’ by enabling punks from Norwich to collate, archive and produce their own social and cultural history. The project has been highly successful, making a tangible difference to the people of Norwich by creating a collective history, shared by punks and the people who lived with and around them.

A Norwich case study of British punk history

Matthew Worley, Professor of Modern History, gathered material – from ephemera, fanzines, photos and posters to memories, records, tickets and people – from the heyday of British punk to forge a history that would coincide with the 40th anniversary of British punk’s emergence.

Norwich was taken as a case-study, with a radical objective: to work with local archivists and cultural practitioners towards producing a collective, shared history rather than one that could be described as ‘mine’, ‘yours’ or ‘theirs’.

Worley developed a strong social media presence and published a sell-out fanzine, Young Offenders: Punk in Norwich, 1976-84, featuring contributions from Norwich punks. Punk in the East’s main event was a series of events in the Norwich Lanes area between October and December 2016, with influential punk bands such as The Ruts, The Buzzcocks and The Undertones making appearances. Anarcho-punk trailblazer Steve Ignorant, former lead singer with Crass and Norfolk resident, performed with his band Slice of Life; events and gigs were also documented on film and via social media channels.

Wandering the Lanes

Norwich Lanes hosted a punk trail of 15 historic venues, with clothes shops housing Vivienne Westwood’s Seditionaries collection, and the windows and walls of shops, cafes and pubs providing display space for punk ephemera.

Stephen Hansell, singer in The Disrupters, spoke for the punk community when he said the project had made him thoughtful about his place in social history: “Back then I never thought for one minute that what we were doing would one day be regarded as social history. Funny old world.”

A future for the old and new

The key beneficiaries of the project are the new and old punks of Norwich, who have been involved from the ground up in creating and presenting their history in their own way; the Museum of Norwich, which has forged links with a marginal group in the community and used this learning to undertake changes at an institutional level; and the Norwich community, which has benefitted from increased visitors and a better understanding of this period in the recent past.

And just as punk grew exponentially, taking root up and down the country, Punk in the East has spawned a kindred project in Sunderland. Worley says the premise can be expanded yet further: “There is no reason why collaborating with cultural practitioners to cultivate grass-root histories of youth cultural agency can’t be done elsewhere in Britain and, indeed, across Europe.”

Fast Facts

  • Punk in the East coincided with the 40th anniversary of British punk’s emergence.
  • The Punk in the East exhibition at the Museum of Norwich proved so popular that the museum, using scans of all the items shown, is creating a permanent digital archive.
  • The project has been so successful that it has also inspired a similar initiative in Sunderland.
  • No Future: Punk, Politics and British Youth Culture, 1976–1984, Prof Worley’s book, was published in autumn 2017

Further information

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