No Man’s Land

Young people uncover women’s viewpoints of the First World War

No Man’s Land: Young people uncover women’s viewpoints of the First World War was an 18 month Heritage Lottery Fund Young Roots project devised to research women during the First World War, an under-researched area of history. The aim of the project was to make the heritage accessible and appealing to young people. The final outcome of the project was a ground breaking book No Man’s Land, which was created by young people, for young people.

Image courtesy of Impressions Gallery.

Who we are

Impressions Gallery

Impressions Gallery is a charity that works internationally to bring the best of contemporary photography to a wide and culturally diverse audience. Impressions Gallery is an international brand known for curatorial excellence, our knowledge shapes future trends within photography through commissioning and exhibiting new work. We work with local communities and young people to make photography accessible to all through our formal and informal education programmes.

New Focus

New Focus is a group of culturally diverse young people who live, work, or study in Bradford. Set up by Impressions Gallery in 2012, New Focus gives 16 to 25 year olds the opportunity to develop projects, make decisions and build skills for their future careers. New Focus is a dynamic group of young people; some are in school, some in higher education, some in employment and others are volunteering or seeking employment. The group are from a range of cultural and ethnic backgrounds and this brings different perspectives to the team. New Focus work closely with both Impressions Gallery and Bradford’s diverse communities to develop projects that inspire and engage other young people. New Focus has high ambitions and since its inception they have developed, planned and delivered over fifteen distinctive projects.

Project aim

After consultation with New Focus members, it was apparent that none had ever visited an archive or were interested in visiting an archive. They all felt that archives were not for them and would be intimidating places to visit. They also felt that traditional history books were uninspiring, often black and white and text-heavy, and that many young people find them intimidating. The aim of the No Man’s Land book was to make heritage fun, exciting and relevant to young people today.

Image courtesy of Impressions Gallery.

We planned a series of field trips with our three heritage partners The Peace Museum, University of Leeds and IWM, London. These archive visits enabled New Focus to develop a range of new skills such as ‘reading’ images, handling archive material and interpreting historical sources. New Focus also had the opportunity to learn from experts in history and photography.

After these sessions, New Focus choose relevant material for the publication with support from Jennifer Sobol, New Focus Project Manager, and Dr Pippa Oldfield, Head of Programme and curator of the No Man’s Land touring exhibition.

They then worked in collaboration to create content and develop the design of an innovative publication. To disseminate the heritage, New Focus devised and delivered a series of events to engage young people and the local community with the publication. This involved running workshops in the classroom and developing an official events programme at Impressions Gallery. To broaden the reach of their research, New Focus also create an eBook enabling them to distribute the publication through history and education networks.

Image courtesy of Impressions Gallery.

New Focus hoped that the publication would have a lasting impact in terms of making heritage accessible and better interpreted, and that the book could be used as an educational resource to change perceptions of women’s historical participation in war and photography.

Quick facts and figures

  • 34 culturally diverse young people (63% BME, aged 16 to 25) devised and took part in the project
  • 40 sessions enabled New Focus to develop knowledge, re etc. on the topic, develop skills in interpreting heritage, and share the heritage with others
  • 12,500 people were reached via the publication, associated events, workshops and outreach work
  • 3,500 copies of the publication No Man’s Land: Young people uncover women’s viewpoints on the First World War were printed and distributed
  • The book is available in 20 specialist archives nationally and internationally, such as National Portrait Gallery London, Glasgow Women’s Library, and the Beinecke Library at Yale University
  • New Focus delivered 10 creative workshop sessions in 5 Bradford secondary schools with 203 pupils taking part
  • 899 people from diverse communities participated in 11 events delivered by New Focus
  • Two live broadcasts on Bradford Community Broadcasting FM106.6 reaching approximately 1000 listeners
  • The eBook has been viewed over 1,590 times


New Focus was invited to attend a special parliamentary reception at the House of Commons on 31 October 2018. The event was held by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) to celebrate the contribution of communities in marking the centenary of the First World War. New Focus was one of twelve groups, selected from over 2,000 projects from the UK, the were invited to showcase their contribution.

New Focus were also honoured to be invited to the official Armistice Thanks Giving Service at Westminster Abby on the 11 November 2018. New Focus were nominated by partner organisations in recognition of the contribution they have made to the commemoration of the First World War.

Image courtesy of Impressions Gallery.

Key outcomes for young people

This innovative approach to learning has engaged a diverse group of young people in sharing this rich heritage with a wide range of audiences. The diversity of New Focus was key to the success of the project. The group was from a range of cultural and ethnic backgrounds, and this brought different perspectives to the project.

The project was inspired by a major exhibition at Impressions Gallery, No Man’s Land: Women Photography and the First World War. This raised the aspirations of New Focus from the outset, as they knew their project would be presented alongside a major touring exhibition. Other key elements that successfully engaged the young people were:

  • Young people having ownership over the project
  • Young people being hands-on with heritage
  • Young people advocating heritage to other young people

I valued being able to get my opinion across, and my design knowledge as well – having people listen to me…that was a nice thing because they clearly trust me and they know that I know what I’m on about.

New Focus member

I much preferred the physical archive (to the IWM online archive) as it made me feel as if I was travelling back in time and experiencing the same thing as the photographer did.

Gaurav Krishan Bhardwaj, 18
New Focus member

The project has been instrumental in supporting young people to develop their careers in the heritage and culture sector. Four New Focus members have gained paid employment: at Tate Liverpool, Bradford Literature Festival and Ilkley Literature Festival, the Royal Armouries, and a paid internship in the Education sector. Another member has received her Leadership Development Certificate for completing a Rotary Youth Leadership Award, and her supervisor stated that her participation in this project has given her confidence to achieve this. When we asked New Focus if they might like to undertake future voluntary or paid work in a heritage or cultural environment, 100% of members said yes.

Key outcomes for schools

New Focus delivered 10 workshop in 5 schools capturing the imagination of over 200 pupils and teachers across Bradford.

The book made an impact in classrooms, creating a buzz and inspiring debate about modern issues of gender equality. Teachers could see how the publication enriched the pupils’ learning experience and commented on the benefits of using photography as a tool to teach subjects such as history and politics. This workshop even inspired Hanson Academy to develop a photography GCSE.

I have been teaching the First World War for five years and the only image of a woman I have used is a propaganda image for conscription. I am now going to use this publication in my lesson plans to ensure the story of women is also explored.

Mr. Martin
English Teacher, Priesthorpe Secondary School

It’s amazing to see the pupils so inspired by a book. I have never seen them so engaged in reading.

Jo Nash
Beckfoot Secondary School

Overall, the project showed how young people were able to interpret heritage in a way that would speak to other young people and successfully engage schools.

Jennifer Sobol
Learning and New Focus Manager, Impressions Gallery
Hashtag: #NoMansLand

Partner organisations: The Peace Museum, Bradford, University of Leeds, IWM (Imperial War Museums) 
Funder: Heritage Lottery Fund Young Roots