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Heritage projects

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Dusty museums are giving way to living history in local government heritage projects around the country

Get schools involved

“What do you want the library to look like? What do we mean by ‘heritage’?” These were just some of the questions that Canterbury City Council asked school children when it decided to revamp its heritage building. The council teamed up with Kent CC and Creative Partnerships Kent (an Arts Council initiative set up to develop creativity in schools) to involve local youngsters in plans to refurbish Canterbury’s Beaney building.

“We wanted their views because they would be its future users,” explains Krystyna Matyjaszkiewicz, Canterbury City Council’s gallery admissions manager. “There was also a desire to develop closer links with local schools and encourage them to use the resources on their doorstep.”

Working with a local primary and secondary school, the task was get the youngsters input on the building’s development. Their suggestions, Ms Matyjaszkiewicz says, were wide-ranging and often surprising.

“One idea was to have climbing frames and slides to take you to different levels of the library. The children also wanted to have quiet areas and areas to experiment in.”

Making cut-outs and signs for the library, and a film complete with soundtrack to promote the centre to young people, were just some of the activities the children took part in.

The Beaney building will feature elements based on the children’s ideas. But it is not the only beneficiary, says Ms Matyjaszkiewicz. “Now the children are taking their parents to the gallery and library. They seem fiercely proud of the place. We hope their positive experiences will have a ripple effect on others.”

History for foster families

Fostered children and the children of the families they are living in are being given the chance to better integrate with each other by getting involved in their shared local heritage.

Colchester & Ipswich Museum Service is working in partnership with Essex CC’s Adolescent Fostering Team on the FAT Heritage: 100 United project, a heritage scheme for children in care. The other ideas for the project have come from the youngsters, from the activities they take part in at local museums, to the project’s name a play on the word ‘phat’ meaning ‘cool’ that reflects its aim of involving 100 participants.

The scheme was inspired by a series of heritage-related activities held for foster children and their families last year to get them interested in local museum collections.

“The children enjoyed the experience so much they kept asking when the next project would be. So we decided to set up workshops this year with their help,” says Amy Griffin, assistant community outreach officer for Colchester & Ipswich Museums Resource Centre.

The youngsters helped organise the venues, chose and briefed the artists and designed the publicity material. The workshops, which began last month and continue this month, are based around commedia dell arte, a form of comedic drama originating in Italy with Punch & Judy. Youngsters take part in improvisational dramas using stories and artefacts from the museums.

The museum setting can even become part of the drama, as witnessed at Colchester Museum, a former castle, whose dungeons became part of the play.

The workshops culminate in a party and travelling exhibition. But the lasting impressions they will leave behind are their impact on the children. “Watching these young people grow in confidence as they make decisions, learn to speak out about their ideas and make new friends has been amazing,” Ms Griffin says.

Bring the past to life

Life as a family carer can be an isolating experience. Carers often lack the income and the opportunities to have time away from those they look after. As a result Suffolk Family Carers, a charity set up to support the 98,000 carers in the region, has developed a project to bring people of all ages together to give them some respite from their home life.

Supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the charity has teamed up with Ipswich and Bury St Edmunds Museums to encourage people to share their personal histories, while also looking at the social history and development of caring in Suffolk in the post-war period.

The 60 carers taking part in the Caring Through Time project will take part in workshops, work with professional photographers, learn about digital imaging and have input from an oral historian.

Each carer will produce their own ‘memory book’ and their work will be displayed in an exhibition next June to mark the 20th anniversary of the charity.

Mark Ereira-Guyer, appeals director at Suffolk Family Carers, says: “Caring for someone 24/7 is very hard and there has to be some respite.

“It is vital that people who so often feel alone and isolated are able to do something unique for themselves and this project is one way of helping them do this.”

Get back to nature

It is not always easy to interest the town-dwelling general public in nature and for many the words ‘natural history’ conjure up images of Victorian scientists, notepads and Latin.

But when Leicestershire CC’s Community Heritage Initiative carried out its Wild Attitudes survey it found that local people valued the countryside as a place for “peace, relaxation and for providing open space to see plants and animals”.

In response, the initiative has introduced a series of activities to help communities get back to nature. Supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund and Rutland CC, the project involves working with local communities to encourage people to record and celebrate the diversity and natural heritage of the region.

“The project is about helping communities help themselves understand more about, and get closer to, nature,” explains project manager Carolyn Holmes.

The initiative helps give people hands-on experiences that show they don’t have to be an expert to get involved with natural history. The work covers a range of natural history and heritage subjects. The scheme also runs more than 40 training and information sessions throughout the year to give individuals skills and knowledge in a range of areas so that they have the confidence to go and explore their local countryside and parish. Further help and advice is also available from the initiative’s newsletters and website.

Ms Holmes says: “We’ve provided different opportunities, such as using art, writing and photography, to encourage people to take a new look at nature. Often during our training courses people are discovering new species of wildlife, which is fantastic.”

Create a centre

On the outside it might look like a typical council depot. But the inside of the community heritage access centre (CHAC) in Yeovil, south Somerset, is home to the unusual and unique, storing precious historical items donated by local people for everyone to appreciate.

A penny-farthing bicycle, glove-making tools and even a primitive radiator have all found their way to the centre, which is jointly funded by South Somerset DC and the HLF.

The facility provides shared storage and access, allowing community museums and heritage groups to develop projects at their own sites. Staff also provide advice, support and resources for these museums and groups. Museum assistant Joseph Lewis describes employees as “guardians of the heritage of south Somerset”.

He says: “People come to the centre to donate valuable objects of historical interest, and we are there to take care of those objects.

“Once we were able to reunite one lady with her great-grandfather’s penny-farthing bicycle which he had donated to our collection. And we were also able to reunite her with her great-grandfather whom she had lost touch with.”

He added: “It’s these moments that make what we do so worthwhile.”

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