Photo of the workhouse at Southwell from afar. Picture taken from the gardens.

Emotional exhibition weaves together stories of lost voices at The Workhouse

The Workhouse and Infirmary in Southwell has installed an intimate exhibition that gives a personal voice to the people who lived and worked there in the past by stitching together the stories of their lives.

The exhibition, entitled ‘Identity’, was designed and created by the Midlands Textile Forum with the support of the National Trust team who look after the heritage site. The forum is known across the Midlands for producing creative art using textile materials and mixed media.

Creating the art involved exploring The Workhouse’s history, human stories and legacy. Inspiration was also taken from the imposing building itself and the impact it had on the artists.

Jane Arthur, a Textile Artist for Midlands Textile Forum, said:

“Our research has taken us on journeys into the past to really connect with the lives and identities of those affected by The Workhouse. The members of the forum each have a unique way of expressing what they see, hear, feel and learn about. This is then channelled into their textile art. It has affected everyone in their own way and shows the complicated nature of The Workhouse and its meaning for us today”.

The art reveals new ways of looking at The Workhouse and invites visitors to reflect on deeper questions about social history. While lots of research goes into understanding the history of The Workhouse, there is always more to get to the heart of.

Kate McDonagh, Programming and Partnerships Officer at The Workhouse, explained:

“It’s important to recognise the marginalised voices of the past, their existence and contributions. The Workhouse has the image of an impersonal institution, but it is also a place that housed real human beings with their own needs, wants and feelings. This exhibition offers a unique way for people to experience more of The Workhouse on their visit.”

The exhibition will run until the heritage site closes for the year at the end of October.

To find out more about the Identity exhibition go to

Posted on 19 May 2023

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Jack Woolley