A participatory artist commission

FEE: £10,000


MORE INFO COMING SOON about Nicky Bird – the artist selected for this £10,000 commission

What was the brief?

Signal Film and Media accepted proposals for creative projects from Photographers or Artists to work collaboratively with local people to produce a new artistic commission through creative workshops and activities that responds to the Sankey Family Photographic Collection during the final year of the projects’ development.

We welcomed hundreds of applications from artists who work with photography or lens based digital media and who had experience of, and the passion for, working in a socially engaged and /or participatory way and in how working with archival photography and how working collaboratively could inform the development of their work.

Applications were encouraged from artists from all backgrounds and we actively encouraged artists to apply who belong to one or more of the following groups: Black, Asian or from a Minority Ethnic group, Refugee, D/deaf, Disabled, Neurodivergent, Working Class and LGBTQI+

The commissioned artist worked alongside community members to increase engagement with the archival collection and with contemporary art. The project supported participatory, artistic responses to the Sankey Collection, so that more people, from more backgrounds, could engage with art inspired by archival collections.

This project is funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund to rescue, digitise, conserve and celebrate the vast Sankey Photography Collection. 

3681, Ship Street, Barrow-in-Furness, early 20th Century. © Sankey Family Photography Collection.

Additional Info

Aims of the commission:

  • To Research & Develop artworks inspired by the Sankey Photography Collection, focusing on using photography, lens based and/or digital media to explore the collection
  • To run a series of 10 workshops to interpret the research and findings from volunteer and heritage sessions with artwork to be exhibited publically.

Included was a fee of £10,000 (artist fees, workshop delivery, travel, accommodation, materials/production and final exhibition costs); Studio/work space; Curatorial, practical and technical support throughout the residency as well as Publicity and Marketing with associated public events; use of our Gallery space and Online Exhibition provision;

2231, Fleetwood Fish Dock and Trawlers, Early 20th Century. © Sankey Family Photography Collection.

What is the project?

Signal Film & Media is an award-winning charity that creates opportunities for all to take part in film and digital art activity. With support from National Lottery Heritage Fund our ‘Seeing the North with Sankey’ project is rescuing, exploring and celebrating an incredible collection of photographic work, made by the Sankey Family, in collaboration with local communities in Barrow-in-Furness and wider Cumbria. 

The Sankey Photographic Collection is a stunning collection of over 15,000 glass plate negatives and postcards of Barrow and the north-west, which were produced and shared around the world from 1895 to the 1970s. 

THE SANKEYS were a father and son duo who documented life in Barrow and Cumbria over 70 years. Starting in 1900, they captured the landscape, cultural changes, individuals, industry and tourism (plus much more). The postcards they created from their photography were posted all over the world and tell fascinating stories of the 20th century.  Since 2019, we have successfully re-housed, re-packaged and digitised the full collection in collaboration with the Sankey Family and Cumbria Archives. 

Since 2018 we have worked with local people and partner organisations to bring the collection to life through research and creative workshops. 

Sankey Postcard showing women working in Vickers Shell Shop during WW1. © Sankey Family Photography Collection.


THE SANKEY photographic collection was created by father and son duo Edward and Raymond Sankey in Barrow-in-Furness, and Cumbria more widely from 1900 to the early 1970’s.The main use of the Sankey negatives were as printed postcards which were produced using a special printing machine developed by Edward Sankey. During peak production the Sankey family were producing 100,000 postcards per year.  The postcards were sold throughout Cumbria and the messages on the back paint a picture of a by-gone day, offering small glimpses into the lives of people who were living in and visiting Barrow and locations in Cumbria. 

The Sankey family were pioneers in documenting the huge shifts in the social, economic and physical landscapes of the area. They photographed a wide range of events including royal visits, the launch of ships from Barrow’s shipyards, the steam ships, glimpses inside the factories, airships, Barrow shop fronts, street scenes, railways, picturesque scenes of the Lake District and portraits of local dignitaries and ordinary working people alike.


Mayfly Naval Airship Accident, 24th September 1911. © Sankey Family Photography Collection.