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Engineering Past & Present: Lessons from Chatham Dockyard

Event organised by ICE

18 November 2020

This event has now ended


In 1984, Chatham Dockyard in the Medway Towns closed, displacing over 7,000 local workers. Industrial workplaces, like the dockyard, were sheltered spaces for generations of the working-class where they could perform their inherited classed and gendered identities within a sphere that legitimised and encouraged them. When the industries closed, the opportunities to develop an apprentice and trade-based identity reduced. Consequently, working class communities, identities and cultures were systematically 'devalued'.

The impact of the closure on Medway has been studied closely by Dr Emma Pleasant. She is passionate about this subject. She completed her PhD in Sociology in 2019 titled “Beyond the dockyards: Changing narratives of industrial occupational cultures in Medway.” Her thesis drew on 40 oral history interviews with former Chatham Dockyard apprentices and young people undertaking engineering apprenticeships in Medway over the recent years. Her aim was to explore and uncover how working cultures have changed within just a couple of generations.

In this lunchtime talk, Emma will share her passion and discuss the main themes of her research including how iconography in the workplace, such as dirt, can highlight the social and cultural effects of de-industrialisation within an engineering community. She will describe how identities were moulded as skills were nurtured for engineering apprentices. By focusing on such icons as dirt she will show that after decades of underinvestment in apprenticeships as a model for training in the UK, a recent resurgence in interest can go some way in overcoming the long‐term effects of the loss of large‐scale industrial work.

Emma’s current role is at the University of Greenwich in Chatham where she manages the career mentoring scheme for Engineering students. As part of the talk, she will showcase how through mentoring, legacies of engineering cultures are kept alive despite the mass changes to the industry over the last 50 years or so.


For more information please contact:

Rose Creasey