Exploring the History of Unilever: A Visit to Port Sunlight
In April, our project team had the opportunity to visit the Unilever archives in Port Sunlight. The setting of the archives is, in itself, of great historical interest. The town of Port Sunlight was built in 1888 by Lever Brothers for its workers. Today, it strikes a stark contrast from the city around it, with its rural atmosphere, mock Tudor buildings, and three bowling greens.
The research team at Lever House in Port Sunlight, home of the Unilever archives.
Unilever is a company that has a strong commitment to historical research. The archives are a prominent feature of the building, displaying a range of holdings and exhibitions, and are staffed by a team of archivists who support researchers and curate the displays. During our visit, we also met with a pair of professional historians who had been hired by Unilever to research the history of plantations.
The visit was a significant milestone for our project team, as it was the first time we had all visited an archive together. One of the challenges we faced was the sheer quantity of records held by the archive! Unilever had a range of company magazines targeting different sections of its workforce. They highlighted the important place that Port Sunlight holds in the company’s heritage. The centenary year of the town’s foundation in 1888 was marked in every copy of the Lever Mirror for the year.
As we continue our archival work over the next month, we will be visiting the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development in Wimbledon and the Institute of Internal Communication in Milton Keynes.
Communicating our research
Our project team is committed to sharing our research beyond academia. As part of this effort, we have been engaging with internal communication practitioners and conducting a survey to gauge current attitudes towards history and internal communication. The survey has now closed and we received over 100 responses. We are grateful to Jen Sproul and Sam Medaglia at the Institute of Internal Communication for their support and we look forward to analysing the results of our survey this month.
We have also been in discussions with Katie Marlow at the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) to understand more about their organization and its involvement in internal communication. The CIPR is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, and we are exploring ways in which our project can contribute to the celebrations through our study of its past.
Our podcast series and blog are important tools for communicating our research. This month, we had the pleasure of welcoming Sam Bleazard, Employer Brand Content Producer at Fortnum & Mason, onto our podcast. Sam’s insights were fascinating, having worked for three of our project’s partner organizations: Royal Mail, Unilever, and John Lewis. In our source of the month blog post, we shared an exciting find: perhaps the earliest employee survey and discussed how this innovative form of communication might work.
The project has made great steps forward this month and we look forward to sharing our upcoming work with you again in a month’s time.