About the Project

In 2018 Signal Film and Media embarked on Seeing the North with Sankey, a journey to re-house, catalogue and celebrate the incredible Sankey Family Photography Collection.



The Sankeys were a father and son trio who documented life in Barrow and Cumbria over 70 years. Starting around 1900, they captured the landscape, cultural changes, everyday lives and work up until the 1970s. The postcards they created from their photographs were posted all over the world and tell fascinating snippets from peoples lives across the 20th century.

The Seeing the North with Sankey Project began properly in 2018, following support from the National Lottery Heritage Fund. The three year project explored and shared the priceless photographic work of the Sankey Family in collaboration with local communities in Barrow-in-Furness and wider Cumbria. Scroll down to see our engagement projects & find out more.

Who were the Sankeys?

Engagement Programme

Our engagement programme has included local talks, training, field trips, workshop, exhibition making and events - both live and online. Over the project, we have engaged with local adults both as volunteers and through creative workshops. The work they have created has contributed to the vast catalogue of research about Sankey's photographic work.

We have also run creative projects inspired by the Sankey Collection. Over one hundred primary school children have taken part in postcard inspired workshops. Families have joined us on trips out and hands-on photographic workshops. Young adults from South Cumbria's pupil referral unit have produced beautiful artworks in response to the Sankey's photographs.

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Over the three year project, we have co-curated eight online exhibitions and two physical exhibitions as part of the Seeing the North With Sankey Project. From uncovering unique portraits of winter scenes to uncovering the lost stories of the Barrow Blitz. Many of the photographs tell unique stories, uncovered by volunteers. Other exhibitions include creative responses to the collection, from a specially made Now and Then film to postcard exchange project.

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"The thematic range in the imagery of the Sankey's is far reaching. In a far corner of Northern England their photographs encompass universal themes."

Philip Northcott Curator

Preserving the Collection

For over a hundred years four generations of the Sankey Family have created and then cared for the Sankey Collection. In 2018, they generously made the decision to donate the entire photographic collection to Cumbria Archives in order to make it safe and accessible to everyone.

During the project, the collection was digitised, re-packaged and then digitally catalogued by a team of volunteers. Behind the scenes, the conservation unit at Cumbria Archives carefully conserved over twenty photographic albums and stored the highly flammable nitrate negatives in the deep freeze. The remaining glass plate negatives live in their new packaging in a carefully controlled environment.

View the Collection

About Signal Film & Media

Signal Film & Media is an award-winning charity providing creative film and digital media activities from our venue, Cooke's Studios, based at Abbey Road, Barrow-in-Furness.
Since 2001 we have provided a unique resource for 1000's of people of all ages and backgrounds to access free facilities, professional tutoring and hands-on experience in film and creative digital media.

Our previous heritage projects have included Market Tales at Barrow Market (2017 - 2018), The Lost Journeys of the Furness Railway (2015 - 2016) and the Cookes' Building Heritage (2012).

Signal Film & Media Website
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Press Coverage

Over the past three years, we have featured on the BBC News website, North West Tonight, BBC Radio Cumbria and in numerous local and national papers and publications including North West Evening Mail, Cumbria Life and the Westmorland Gazette. Here are a few of our highlights:

The Guardian

BBC North West

Thanks to all our funders who made this project possible, especially to the key support of the National Lottery Heritage Fund.