Since last year The Willow Community Project has been carrying out research on the venue that lit up Coney Street until its unfortunate closure in 2015. Between delving into the archives for mentions of the Willow in the news through the decades, and gathering oral history testimonials of memorable nights out, we have found that the Willow left a lasting impression on those who frequented it. The central question the project has sought to answer is: What made the Willow so memorable? From this, the “Love it or Hate it? The Willow Legacy” exhibition has been put together, highlighting artworks in different mediums by frequenters of the Willow and/ or were inspired by its spirit. Included in the exhibition is also the Willow memories postbox – a chance for you to tell us about any memories, stories, and anecdotes you remember about the Willow.
Broader issues emerge that are very relevant today: what is missing from nightlife in York these days? What are the elements that make a venue somewhere you know you will be safe? There’s much we can learn from the Willow and its remarkable history.
Rachel Cowgill is a Professor in Music at the School of Arts & Creative Technologies, University of York. She is also the University's Research Theme Champion for Creativity and leads the music strand of the StreetLife project, as well as the UK-US AHRC-funded research collaboration InterMusE and its sub-project OurPlace (with Professor Alan Dix of Swansea University's Computational Foundry). Rachel is a cultural-historical musicologist working on histories of live performance and community archiving. She is also an advocate of equality, diversity and inclusion in music studies.
Victoria Hoyle is a Lecturer in Public History and Director of the Institute for the Public Understanding of the Past at the University of York. She was formerly York's City Archivist (2013-2017). Her research is grounded in critical archival studies and focuses on the meanings, values and affordances of archives for communities of shared experience. Her book The Remaking of Archival Values was published by Routledge in 2022. She is currently working on the intersection of memory, identity and recordkeeping with adult survivors of childhood abuse.
Andy Egerton is a Research Assistant for the music strand of the StreetLife project, having so far produced the "Love it or Hate it? The Willow Legacy" exhibition and "A Queer Walk of York" heritage trail. As a cultural and social historian focused on queer studies of early modern history, Andy has written essays such as the perception of the performative gender of castrati and women cast in Glück's Orpheus ed Euridice. Andy is currently interested in efforts to queer museum curation, rendering exhibits inclusive and accessible, and initiatives for community archiving.
As a Researcher for StreetLife, Lizzie Hodgson has delved into York's vibrant history of leisure and entertainment. Her research has focused on the city's ancient coaching inns, enchanting cinemas, and lively dance halls and nightclubs. She has previously worked at the York Mansion House where she developed her knowledge of the civic history of York