The Springs Arts and Heritage Centre is based in Havant, Hampshire, and they have recently received Heritage Lottery funding to create an exhibition and documentary all about Kenwood, the electrical kitchen and home-ware brand which invented the iconic Chef food mixer, which was first released in 1950 and it still their best seller today!
The 'Mixing 'n' Twisting' day was organised to gather interesting stories and facts from ex-colleagues, family members and locals who had a connection with the company and factories originally based in Havant, and I was thrilled to be asked to help.
I set up a manicure station in the main exhibition hall, which was buzzing with chatter and stories of old times past, and I recorded four stories from three ex-colleagues who each worked for Kenwood in different capacities during the 70s, 80s and 90s, and another lady who worked in a neighbouring laboratory and had some great stories about the Kenwood social club in its heyday!
It was a really relaxed event and they all loved their manicures and the chance to talk about their past, which is so rare!
One lady held the most senior female role there in the 1990s, and she had her first child whilst there. As the breadwinner, she returned to work full time a few months after having her baby and her husband, the main care-giver, used to bring the baby in to her office everyday so she could breastfeed her at work. Her memory and detail for her roles at Kenwood were really impressive, and it was clearly an important part of her life and career.
Another lady, who worked there in the 1970s as a student on a summer placement on the production line, had some brilliant stories about the 'girls on the line' and witnessing several of the permanent staff members - the majority female - helping themselves to a five-finger-discount of machine parts to later build their own Chefs at home!! She also told me that she had suffered with a bad back from heaving the Chef machines on and off the production line and soldering parts, and how she has since dedicated her career to occupational health and safety and is now completing a PHD on occupational disease. It only really occurred to her through our conversation that perhaps her injury whilst working for Kenwood inspired and shaped the rest of her life!
Another lady told me she used to demo the equipment to store staff and at conferences across the UK. She admitted she had never enjoyed cooking, but sure knew how to work the machines and was grateful that the Chef made cooking so easy!!
Despite the pretty sexist ads back in the day, it clearly helped women and their families live an easier life when it came to cooking, and it gave the ladies I spoke to some brilliant career opportunities. They all mentioned that they loved their Chefs and still use them to this day, so they have certainly stood the test of time.
Happy weekend everyone,