Put People First

19 May – 21 May 2022, 13:00-17:00


‘a ROLE to PLAY’ Esther Johnson (2019) 



Vivid Projects opens the Videotheque to share stories of contemporary workers struggles.

Esther Johnsons’s 2019 film, ‘a ROLE to PLAY’ was co-commissioned by Animate Projects and Junction Arts as part of the WORK project. The film tells stories of the impact of economic changes in post-industrial Bolsover, a Derbyshire constituency where coal was once king. featuring the Bolsover Freedom Community Project food bank users, volunteers, adult reading group members, and former Bolsover MP (1970-2019) Dennis Skinner.

‘1970. I got elected, and six o’clock the day after I went to work. I didn’t have two ha’pennies to rub together.

I hadn’t got a bank account.

I hadn’t got a car. I went to work because I didn’t know when I was going to get paid in Parliament. Nobody sent me a letter saying turn up on such and such a day. I just had to keep looking in the papers to see when swearing in started. So I kept going to the pit’.

Dennis Skinner, trade unionist, ex-miner, MP for Bolsover from 1970 – 2019.


A ROLE to PLAY is accompanied by two 80’s campaign videos made by Birmingham’s TURC Video. Birmingham Trades Union Council set up TURC in the early 1980’s with funding from the economic development committee of the West Midlands County Council (WMCC). he county council took the view that if it was providing support and funding for employers in the region it should do the same for the employees and also funded a Health and Safety Advice Centre.  TURC Video was established as a separate trading arm in 1984, making campaign videos and providing video facilities and an extensive library of tapes on employment and local and campaign issues.  

PUT PEOPLE FIRST was produced with funding from the trade union NALGO,  to campaign against the privatisation of council services and nationalised industries. TURC worked in partnership with the recently established local Channel 4 workshop BFVW (in 1983, still called the Birmingham Film Workshop) to produce the film. It is part of one of the first major campaigns that TURC became involved in against the privatisation of the public sector.  NALGO (National Association of Local Government Officers) was running a campaign under the banner ‘Put People First’  and contracted TURC to make a campaign video for them.  

‘This took the form of editing the material in different ways to make three videos: a longer one aimed at trade union members giving them the arguments to state their case, one at employers showing the pitfalls of privatisation and a shorter 20 minute version aimed at the general public.  Production was on the lo-band U-matic format – cheaper than broadcast quality but still of sufficient quality to allow decent VHS copies to be made for distribution’. Marian Hall, former video worker at TURC Video, Birmingham Centre for Media Arts and VIVID.

PEOPLE BEFORE PROFIT shares the uncomfortably relevant experiences of the seafarers striking over P & O ferries’ decision –  in the wake of the ‘Herald of Free Enterprise’ disaster  – to cut staffing and increase the hours of the staff on the channel ferries.


Videotheque draws from materials and narratives within the TURC Video and VIVID archives (courtesy of Vivid Projects, Yasmeen Baig-Clifford and Marian Hall). Spanning 1984-2012, and beginning with workers campaigns against discrimination and injustice, this rich archive of community media and early media arts production was inherited by Vivid Projects in 2013. In 1991, with the support of the Economic Development Unit of Birmingham City Council and West Midlands Arts, TURC Video joined with the community arts organisation Wide Angle and in 1992 was established as Birmingham Centre For Media Arts – which t/a ‘VIVID’ until closure in 2012. The archive is now under the stewardship of Vivid Projects and former staff of VIVID and antecedent organisations,  Yasmeen Baig-Clifford and Marian Hall.  

Esther Johnson lives in Nottingham. She works with moving image, audio and photography. Screenings include: London Film Festival; CPH:DOX; IDFA, Amsterdam; Sheffield Doc/Fest and Tate galleries. Recent projects include SHIPS in the SKY, a social history arts project in and about her hometown, Hull, and the archive feature film Asunder with live score, commissioned by 14–18 Now. She studied at the Royal College of Art and is Professor of Film and Media Arts at Sheffield Hallam University.

WORK was a collaboration between Animate Projects, Vivid Projects, Fermynwoods, QUAD and Junction Arts with artists Adam Lewis Jacob, Dryden Goodwin, Esther Johnson and Jenny Holt. Made in Derby, Thrapston, Birmingham and Bolsover, the WORK films explore: the rhythms of a care worker’s day; rural working lives and the intrusion of distribution hubs; the Trade Union Resource Centre archive and collective activism; stories of the impact on individual lives of post-industrial economic change. Supported by Jerwood Arts and using public funding by Arts Council England.

Image credit: Courtesy Esther Johnson.


Dennis Skinner