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Manchester Histories Digifest 2020 programme launch

01 Sep 2020

To celebrate Alf’s Act – 50 Years of Disabled People’s Rights, the digital festival will take place on Friday, 5 and Saturday, 6 September

Manchester Histories Digifest 2020

DigiFest 2020 is about to take to the airwaves with the two-day digital festival the catalyst for a host of creativity, conversations, story sharing, exhibitions, music, films and more, all with the aim of celebrating, learning and challenging the legacy created by the 50th anniversary of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act (1970).  That this milestone is marked in Manchester is particularly fitting given that Lord Alf Morris, who pioneered the legislation, was born in Manchester and served as MP for Wythenshawe for over 30 years. 

DigiFest brings together disabled and non-disabled people, from organisations and as individuals, who have worked collaboratively to put together this programme, with lots of additional content coming from a public call out. Broadcasting live from Manchester’s Central Library, DigiFest will be hosted by multi-award winning artist and activist Jackie Hagan and leading the celebrations will be Lord Alf Morris’ family.

Jackie Hagan said: “We've got a fantastic array of talent on board and an exciting way of getting round lockdown that I think will mean more disabled and non-disabled people can attend.  People can come to hear so many brilliant disabled artists, a fitting tribute to Alf Morris and his work.”

Alf’s daughter Gill Morris says, “It is just fantastic that so many brilliant people are coming together to celebrate Alf’s Act. The Covid-19 pandemic shone a light on the huge inequalities in our society. No more so than on disabled people.  It has also exposed just how vulnerable everyone’s future health and wellbeing is. 50 years ago, my Dad, recognised the social injustices suffered by those with disabilities and that inevitably disability impacts on all our lives.  His ground breaking legislation – the first of its kind anywhere in the world – was about creating equal opportunities and fairness for disabled people. 

“DigiFest shines a light on Alf’s Act which changed the lives of millions of disabled people worldwide and provides an historic opportunity for us to celebrate and learn.  Most of all it will look to the future and how, together, we must shape a more equal society for disabled people.  I hope that everyone will tune in, feel inspired, motivated and proud.”

Friday, 4 September (6pm to 7.30pm) will be the festival opener and a preview of what’s to come, during which the first screening of part one of the documentary Alf, made alongside Lord Alf Morris’ family, will be aired.  Audiences will also hear Alf’s daughter, Gill Morris, and documentary maker Jules Hussey from Brazen Productions in conversation. This will set the scene for what follows, as the campaign to achieve disabled rights is remembered and the work to continue to achieve progress and change continues.  Talking about the realities of today’s world, rock musician, actor, writer and performance artist Mat Fraser will look at the major change in tone around how the rights of disabled people are being dismantled and actor Alicia Dillon will talk to Jackie about living with a Chronic illness.  A performance by cellist Georgina Aasgaard of the work of Lucy Hale created especially for DigiFest in collaboration with Drake Music will conclude the evening.

Saturday, 5 September sees a full day of activities, with 10am until 12noon the time when you can take part in a workshop or browse the variety of digital content that explores stories, views and the histories of disabled people.  This spans historical insight to current issues; from a talk on Disability and The Tudors by Phillipa Vincent-Connolly of Manchester Metropolitan University to Dennis Queen’s response to Covid-19 on the disabled community, It’s Been Carnage.

From 12noon to 6pm Jackie Hagan introduces a series of live broadcasts, with a full programme of content evolving as the day progresses.  There will be more first time performances of music commissioned with Drake Music by artists Ollie Hyland and James Holt. DIY Theatre will talk about moving their performance Following Patient 36 to a digital platform. Artist Janet Charlesworth of Proud and Loud Arts will be presenting a multimedia performance that focuses on the United Nations’ Convention on Rights for Persons living with Disability; the piece is named Article 19 – UNCRPD. 

Jackie will be in conversation with some of the leading campaigners for disabled rights, such as Bob Niven (former chief executive of the Disabled Rights Commission) alongside those who are sharing their very personal experiences, such as artist Andy Wild.

DigiFest also sees the launch of a series of online exhibitions.  These include the work of American writer and artist Louise Stern, who works around ideas of language, communication and isolation and introduces, all of which are seen in her exhibition and short film Signs.  Artists from Pure Arts studios will be exhibiting the results of a series of creative workshops that examined the theme of heirlooms, inspired by the Heritage Future exhibition at Manchester Museum.   John Rylands Library will be sharing the archive of The 66 Club, which was founded in April 1966 for young deaf adults.  Poole Arts exhibition Furiously Mad reveals the legislative history of the treatment of people described as ‘Furiously Mad’ in a legal document from 1714.

Working on DigiFest since the start, Kirsty Hutchison, Co-chair of Disabled Staff Network, says, “I'm so excited to see Manchester Histories DigiFest 2020 come to life, despite living in challenging times. I hope people will come along to take part in DigiFest 2020, all shaped and put together by an amazing steering group of disabled people, their family and friends. I think Alf would approve.”

DigiFest 2020 is a collaboration between Manchester Histories, The University of Manchester and its Disabled Staff Network, the family of the late Lord Morris of Manchester, Manchester Metropolitan University, University of Manchester’s Students’ Union, North West TUC, Manchester City Council and the Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People.  It is funded by Manchester City Council, Greater Manchester Combined Authority, National Lottery Heritage Fund, Granada Foundation, Wellcome Trust, Historic England, Sir Robert McAlpine Strong Foundations Grant, supported by Semble, and the kind donations from the public.

Every aspect of DigiFest is free to take part in and enjoy, and can be accessed from anywhere in the world. 

Find out more about Manchester Histories, its work and projects by visiting their website.  

Further information

Due to the pandemic vital funding has been lost to host this Festival. A Crowdfunding campaign is ongoing for anyone that wishes to donate - you could be in with the chance of winning a unique incentive. Find out more on the Crowdfunding page.