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Walk around Westbury under the Plain

This year seems to have started in a literal cloud of gloom – grey skies, rain and fog. So when the fog lifted and the sun came out today I thought I couldn’t end the day without getting out and enjoying the sunshine.

I’m very lucky in that I live on the edge of Westbury and can step out of my front door and take off into the countryside. I live at the bottom of the Salisbury Plain – today I decided to climb ‘cardiac hill’ as my friend calls it. You can certainly feel your heart thumping when you reach the top. I love the way the chalk has been shaped by the weather to look like steps into the hillside. It’s pretty muddy right now but soon dries up in drier weather.

You are rewarded by glorious views over West Wiltshire towards Devizes and beyond. It was a beautiful still day with bright blue skies and the colours astonishing.

Views over West Wiltshire

The military have had a presence on Salisbury Plain since the late 19th century. It provides a vast nature reserve and archaeological park. Although much of it is ‘behind the wire’ and red flags warn us of live firing, a large part is still available for us to enjoy. The military area provides a good deal of clutter to ensure we don’t stray too far and to remind us that the area is strictly regulated. I must attempt one day a full circuit of the Imber Range Path – though perhaps not all at once!

Training Area Signage

The low winter sun makes observations difficult as I was travelling westwards making it hard to look out for birds. I always enjoy the views over the training area. The winter sun accentuates the way that the terrain has been shaped over the millennia by nature and man. The deep dry valleys and the lynchets or ruts created by military vehicles.

This walk takes you along the Imber Perimeter path and then plunges down towards Upton Scudamore below and then over the A350. I wanted a slightly longer walk so crossed over the road into Upton Scudamore. It has a fine early church with some lovely features but today I took the path to ‘Biss Bottom’ – a great name where there is a water treatment plant harnessing the water from the River Biss, just one of numerous springs which emerge from the chalk aquifer around the edge of the Plain.

As you climb back up from the valley bottom, the busy railway line brings you back to reality and you are treated to wonderful views back over to the edge of the Plain and its seemingly sculpted edge. This solitary tree caught my eye bathed in late afternoon winter sun.

On the home straight now through Old Dilton and home following along yet another chalk stream which feeds the Biss.

It was good to get out – I’m too easily persuaded that my never-ending ‘to do’ list is more important – but today it was good to leave it behind.

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Saints’ Alive!

A Blog about a creative art project at All Saints’ Church Westbury

As I said in a previous Blog I have spent a good deal of time during 2021 in a volunteering capacity as Churchwarden of All Saints’ Church Westbury.

Churches as community spaces

I am passionate about sharing the church building with the wider community of Westbury and helping them to engage with its history and heritage.

Churches like All Saints’ Church are grounded in their communities. The recent survey of the building carried out by the Wiltshire Medieval Graffiti Survey demonstrates that (another topic for a Blog!). The names of those who lived and worked in the community are literally etched into the windows and walls of the building.

The disengagement of people with churches and church life is a much bigger topic which I have no intention of exploring on these pages but the result is, it seems to me, a perception that non-churchgoers are unwelcome or don’t have the right to enter and enjoy their parish church.

I often hear children cry out as they pass the open door that the church is open and express a desire to enter but all too often I hear their parents say no. This makes me sad. Of course it may be just lack of time and the need to be somewhere else but that feeling of awe that young children have is soon lost. The danger is that in time, they too feel that the church is not a place for them.

Inspired by a presentation from Annie Lucas about her National Lottery Funded Project in St Cubert’s Church, Cornwall at the 2019 SWFed Conference in Plymouth I decided to see if I could do something on a smaller scale here in Westbury.

Source of inspiration

The vision was to hold workshops that enabled members of our community to create something themselves using our beautiful Grade I church building as a source of inspiration. I wanted those people to be welcomed and feel that they too owned the space. I hoped that they would leave feeling that they could return and explore in their own time and tell others about us. I saw the workshops as a way of helping more people to value and appreciate the church as a community resource.

Our church building has stone carving, woodwork, textiles, stained glass and ceramics all providing colour, beauty and interest and every inch telling a story.

I reached out to artists and creative practitioners via social media and the Arts in Wiltshire blog and was really pleased with the response. I asked those who expressed an interest to complete an online form so that I could see what they all had to offer. I wanted to make these workshops available to adults and young people.


Next job was to secure funding as the Church could not afford to underwrite these themselves. Grants would enable us to pilot some sessions, without risk, to see if the concept worked before considering holding these more regularly in the future.

I applied to the Westbury Community Area Board for a grant to support this work. This was part of their programme to support older people and in particular those suffering from social isolation which is said to be at high levels in Westbury. I was grateful to receive one early in 2020 with the intention of holding the workshops that summer.

Delays to the programme

Then of course the pandemic hit!

Like everyone, I initially thought the Covid 19 scare would be over by the summer and we might be able to hold them in the summer of 2020. But as the virus continued and before vaccines were available it was clear that the time wasn’t right and that those people that were intended to benefit from these workshops would be unlikely to want to risk contact with others.

So we waited and in early 2021 I started to make tentative steps with the three practitioners we had decided to work with to see if we could make them happen in 2021.

We made plans, we looked at being ‘Covid-secure’ and how we could manage the sessions following the various levels of guidance available and we felt that the roll out of the vaccine programme would mean that people felt safe enough to sign up. We agreed a programme of three workshops. Each one very different

All systems go!

I was really keen to try and reach those people that might really benefit from some activity after such a long period of isolation so I contacted the Community Engagement Manager for Westbury and Warminster and the Local Area Coordinator for Westbury and Dilton Marsh to ask for recommendations of individuals and groups who are in touch with older and in particular socially isolated individuals who might welcome the opportunity to begin to meet with others again. We also contacted those people who had been bereaved in the past year that our clergy had supported who might be interested in attending these sessions.

In May 2021, the following groups were contacted:

  • White Horse Surgery
  • Alzheimer’s Wiltshire
  • Age UK Wiltshire
  • White Horse Surgery Patient Voice
  • Care Support Wiltshire
  • Carers in Wiltshire
  • Warminster Open Door
  • Westbury Friendship Group
  • Westbury Court

Those contacted were provided with a poster in .pdf and .png format and an information sheet which aimed to answer questions and provide sufficient detail about each session. The Wiltshire Council Local Area Coordinator also circulated to his contacts. Despite a reminder email, many did not reply at all, others responded positively, seemed to welcome the idea and said that they would pass it on to their users. However, we are aware of only one person coming through this route which was disappointing. More work would be needed to find out why those who were contacted through these organisations did not attend. A more fruitful approach would be to work directly with specific organisations in partnership to create a bespoke activity which met the groups specific needs.

We decided to hold off advertising the event publicly to give these target groups time to circulate to their members and to book in.

In the end we used social media including paid for advertising on Facebook and the local press to reach out across the local area. Participants were asked to book in via Eventbrite.


The feedback reflected the high level of positive comments received on the day. Those that came were appreciative of the warm welcome and really enjoyed exploring the church in a new way.

The participants were a mixture of people who had not been before some expressed Christian beliefs many said they had none and one participant told us that she was a Muslim.

Conversations at each session and following have shown that they had a real impact on those people that came. For many it was the first time that they had been with others like this for over a year.

Feedback forms were produced in hard copy for the first two and sent as a Google form for the third session. The form was designed to:
• measure satisfaction,
• record the number of people who had not visited the church before
• find out if they would feel comfortable coming into the church on their own in the future
• explore the interest in those attending on returning and
• if they would pay for the experience in the future

Did the workshops work in the space?

The Church proved to be a successful venue for the workshops. There are a variety of spaces available. The Chancel proved to be a useful open space and its stone floor meant that mess could be cleared up easily. The building also provides quiet areas for solo or small group working. There is power and water. A microphone is available for larger groups and there is a screen and projector available. Background music can be played if required.

There is level access for those with mobility issues but it is a big space for someone with limited mobility.

Each session lasted for 3 hours with a break for refreshments in the middle.

Longer sessions could be accommodated, there were several comments from participants that they could have spent all day enjoying the activity. There is a kitchenette in the corner of the Church which enables light refreshments to be served and people could be asked to bring their own lunch if the session lasted longer.

All the professional artist practitioners enjoyed the space, found it inspirational and found it a good place to hold a workshop providing both indoor and outdoor space.

Lessons learned

Reaching our target audience

It was disappointing that our attempts to reach out to specialist support groups appeared not to be successful. Bespoke programmes working with an individual organisation would undoubtedly be a more productive way to reach this aim. A more extended programme might lead to more success through the building up of relationships and it may be that these groups would rather have an event tailored to their needs. However, the feedback and comments from the participants showed that there is a general need for opportunities to spend time together and meet new people.

Individual stories demonstrated that there is a need for these kinds of activities in Westbury. Some of our participants were new to Westbury and it was an ideal way to get to know the town and meet other people in a safe space, others had been recently bereaved and found the church space suited their needs. Some participants revealed that they had demanding jobs that had been more stressful during the pandemic and that the sessions provided much needed escape from working from home.

Our workshops were limited to those aged over 55 due to the funding conditions but feedback on Facebook indicated that there was an interest in getting involved from many people under that age. This demonstrated that future workshops would have wider appeal and something to consider for future events.


Facebook provided a good marketing space and ensured we reached a local audience. Working with other partners would provide a wider audience and a longer period would help reach a wider range of people.

Our boosted (paid for posts) reached far more people than our average posts with over 1,000 engagements when our normal posts reach less than 200.

Eventbrite was an effective way to book participants in but there were some participants who found it difficult so providing a phone number to book is necessary.


The response was that people would be happy to pay a moderate charge for future workshops. If the workshops are repeated a grant could help to make future events affordable by subsidising them.

What happens next?

We are hoping to work with a business in Westbury run by local artists who regularly provide sketching and other art and craft workshops. Art workshops is not the ‘core business’ of the Church of England and so as a church community we need to balance the time it takes to develop a programme of workshops with other activities. Working with a partner might help to reduce some of the time managing a programme of workshops would take.

We’d like to provide these workshops at a price to keep them affordable and even consider providing some free spaces (or pay what you can afford) so that they are accessible to all. We are exploring sources of funds to help make this happen.

We are very hopeful that we can hold more workshops in 2022 and have three workshops for young people planned for the February 2022 half term – watch this space!

The church building is open daily from approximately 9am to dusk – why not come on in and get creative yourself?

I’d like to thank Jo Taylor, Marie Hillcoat and Matthew Tett for their support in planning and leading these workshops and Wiltshire Council for the Community Area Grant which supported the workshops.

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Wishing you a very merry Christmas

What a year! We all hoped that the Covid Pandemic would be over by now didn’t we and that we would be back to ‘normal’? Yet still we are living under restrictions and fear for ourselves and our loved ones.

2021 has been a mixed year for me. I’ve enjoyed a variety of different projects working with passionate professionals and volunteers, all trying to make a difference and protect the heritage they love in difficult times. It’s been particularly pleasing to see the reopening of the Trowbridge Museum and complete the evaluation of their project. It seems hard to believe that I first started to work with them in 2017!

Thank you to all those individuals and organisations that continue to support our sector in difficult times.

I still need to learn to find time to prioritise my business and look after myself!

I hope that you and your loved ones manage to get together, enjoy each other’s company and relax. You’ll need to be rested as 2022 is undoubtedly going to be yet another challenging year!

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What have I been up to?

I’ve been neglecting this page in 2021…It’s been a busy year.

Throughout this year I have spent a great deal of time working in a voluntary capacity alongside my professional projects. In this Blog I reflect on using my skills to bid for and manage a £24,400 Cultural Recovery Fund project in a voluntary capacity.

All Saints’ Church, Westbury Spring 2021

I have been Churchwarden of All Saints’ Church, Westbury since 2019. It’s been a steep learning curve. The role of Churchwarden is an ancient one and is the senior lay (non-ordained) role in a congregation.

The role has taken on a new meaning during the Covid 19 pandemic with endless checking of government and Church of England websites to remain up to date with the latest guidance followed by a review of risk assessments and procedures. My digital skills have improved and the sudden disappearance of volunteers (as many were in the “vulnerable” category) has put a lot of pressure on the younger members of the congregation including myself.

Our finances are precarious at the best of times but the pandemic hit our fundraising opportunities hard. We didn’t qualify for any of the grants from either national or local government. So when the Cultural Recovery Fund Round 2 was announced and the ChurchCare team at the Church of England encouraged churches to apply I thought I’d use my professional skills to see if we could seek support to help the Church reopen after the long period of closure.

I know from talking to other colleagues that I’m not the only one who struggled to put together a well thought out proposal in the short time scale allowed. The tight deadline meant that it was tough to really work out the priorities on the long list of things that we would like to do but in the normal run of things simply don’t have the capital to implement. Church communities don’t move quickly as a rule and it was difficult to get others in the leadership team to move fast and make quick decisions. Then we had to ask contractors to supply prices on sketchy briefs and ask them to work superfast when there was no certainty of getting any money at all.

Being closed for an extended period of time meant that our usual cleaning hadn’t been taking place and the building was getting damp due to lack of use, exacerbated by various leaky patches on our roof and rainwater goods that had seen better days. We had also missed the usual annual checks like fire extinguisher and boiler servicing. With the resumption of ‘normal life’ on the horizon and a return to daily opening we were conscious that a lot of work needed to be done before we could be sure that visitors would see us at our best and we were safe to open.

We were also conscious that we needed to ‘up our game’ on what we offered visitors and find ways to diversify our income from beyond our congregation to the wider community and visitors to our town. We hoped that due to the expected rise in domestic holidays and ‘staycations’ that we might see more visitors to our small market town. All Saints’ Church is the only Grade I listed building in Westbury and the oldest, with origins dating back to Saxon times and the current building dating from the 13th Century onwards.

Cut a long story short and after several days of work and lots of tearing of hair putting the bid together it was submitted and to our delight (and a certain amount of trepidation) we were successful in receiving a grant of £24,400.

Again, in common with many others it was frustrating to get official permission so late. Our ‘permission to start’ email was received on 14 April – 2 weeks into the 12 week period that the grant monies were supposed to be spent in.

What was the money for?

Essential maintenance

  • servicing the boiler
  • portable appliance testing
  • servicing the fire extinguishers
  • servicing and maintaining our CCTV system
  • replacing the lead on 6 bays on the roof
  • unblocking, repairing, replacing and repainting all our rainwater goods
  • having the organ retuned after 18 months of reduced use

Spring cleaning

  • a skip to get rid of 20+ years worth of accumulated clutter
  • dry cleaning our curtains
  • shelving to enable us to reorganise essential stuff like cleaning materials away from the visitor route

Improving the visitor experience

  • replacing information panels
  • producing welcome leaflet
  • attractive new external signage
  • new internal signage boards

Improving our long term financial sustainability

  • installing a contactless pay station
  • creating literature asking for financial support

Engaging with a wider range of people

We also wanted to find ways to draw a wider range of people into the building and the grant was the stimulus to finding ways to engage a wider range of people in our activities

We advertised on social media and the local paper for volunteers to help with our spring cleaning events and around a dozen people answered the call.

We invited volunteers to help out with our Open Day to celebrate the reopening of the church after the final lifting of restrictions in July 2021. The Rotary Club offered their support to support with stewarding of our popular Tower Tours. Over 100 people came in to explore the building and venture into the bell ringing chamber.

We also reached out to the Wiltshire Medieval Graffiti Survey who are an off shoot of the Wiltshire Museum’s Archaeological Field Group. They welcome volunteers to assist with the surveying and recording. We had over a dozen people attending at each of their two sessions which took place in June and October 2021. A fascinating way of engaging people with the building providing them with privileged access from the top of the tower to the cellar!

A lecture in November attracted 50 people to hear about the initial findings of the Survey and we hope to welcome them back in 2022.

Lessons learned


Due to the short time scale given to spend the grant monies the work had to be shared around. There were some items that I would have liked to have had more input into. I just couldn’t provide the time as I was juggling paid commitments (another CRF funded project) and so had to trust others to do the work. Clear instruction and regular contact ensured deadlines were (nearly) met.


You can only do what you can do. The pressure that the time scale put on us and the very last minute (a week before the deadline) reprieve and extension allowed was very stressful, particularly when undertaking the role as a volunteer and juggling other responsibilities. I was working with volunteers who had no experience of projects like this so I had to accept that they were doing the best that could and just help guide them through the process.

Be Flexible

Because the bid was produced so quickly there wasn’t time to really think about the details of our project and so for example when new ideas emerged such as what media we could use for our information panels we had to be responsive, check prices and options, review the budget and roll with it. We had problems with our preferred roofer dropping out at the last minute and to move fast to get the contract tied down before the end of June deadline. Costings for various elements of the work by necessity had been estimated and so there was constant re-budgeting and review of work that could be completed with the funds available. The continuing uncertainty over the Covid situation and what was and wasn’t permitted meant that everything had to be planned with the knowledge that it could all change at the last minute.


As the work was divided out amongst the various volunteers, regular get togethers either on Zoom or socially distanced in person helped us to keep in touch with progress. Regular written updates from myself as project manager helped to keep everyone informed, on track and conscious of deadlines.


I was very lucky to have one or two really great people in our volunteer team who supported me during the process and took on discrete elements of the project. It was also good to work with trusted professionals who you could rely to get on with the work and were patient with our volunteers who had not done this kind of work before.

We had a willing band of volunteer labour which enabled us to deliver so much more than the monetary value of the grant. For example:

  • several weekend work parties including a morning spent filling the skip
  • those who took photographs and wrote the text for our new information panels
  • the 3 volunteers who spent a day installing our two new external noticeboards
  • the time given by one volunteer to project manage the roof and rainwater goods works.

Project managing under pressure

I know that all involved in the CRF grant programme were working under pressure at a difficult time. My case officer has been very responsive and helpful throughout the process. However, I know that I am not the only person who found the tight timescale extremely stressful. The pressure was particularly heavy on groups like ours that were volunteer led. The very late reprieve meant that decisions were made very quickly in order to meet the original timescale and better ones might have been made if the decision to extend the deadline had been communicated earlier.


Personally the project has helped improve my bid writing and increased my experience of delivering this kind of project working entirely with volunteers. It’s helped me to improve my delegation skills and given me more patience!

As Churchwarden I am tremendously grateful for the huge injection of cash into our church that the CRF grant provided.

  • It has enabled long overdue maintenance works to be completed
  • It has enabled us to invest in the infrastructure to increase our long term sustainability such as the contactless giving station. We would have found the cost of the unit hard to justify if it hadn’t been for the grant
  • We have attractive information banners to help visitors explore our church building
  • We have smart new noticeboards at the entrance to our church precinct to welcome visitors and show that we are a thriving community. These also include QR codes linking to our online giving platform
  • We have found new opportunities to encourage and welcome members beyond our church community into the building

I know that the volunteers involved found it very hard work as we moved at a much faster pace than is normal for us but it has given us confidence as a community to consider applying for more project funding in the future. We had fun and ate a good deal of cake.

However, I think we would be more cautious with this kind of short timescale programme both in terms of the application process and delivery of the project itself because of the pressure it placed on those doing the work alongside carrying out ‘normal’ duties.

All our objectives were met and we managed to squeeze in more than originally planned due to the difficulties of accurate costing in the original bid. We hope (and pray) that it will put us in a good position as we all continue to emerge from the Coronavirus pandemic.

Time then, all things considered, that was well spent.

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Merry Christmas

This year has been strange for everyone. My favourite analogy which I have heard in several different versions, is that we are all in the same storm, just in different boats. We have all experienced 2020 in different ways.

I am fortunate that I have been busy this year and I am grateful to the continuing support of my clients.

I would like to do a “shout out” too to people and organisations that have been particularly supportive this year:
Iona Keen, SW Fed (Bristol Culture and Heritage Mingle), Museum Freelance (Marge Ainsley & Christina Lister), Culture Force (Helen Horler), Tiva Montalbano (World Heritage UK)

A massive congratulations to my local heritage organisations who have kept going despite extremely difficult times:
Wiltshire Museum, Salisbury Museum, Trowbridge Museum

Thanks to people who have provided help and support over the year in various projects including Simon Addison at the Roman Baths (Bath & North East Somerset), Chloe Smith, forty8creates, Sue Bush, Touchpoint Design, Josepha Sanna, ARTiculation and there are many more.

I do hope that 2021 is happy, healthy and prosperous year for us all.

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How has your Lockdown been?

Isn’t this the question of our time?

We can all swap stories about this shared experience but in truth each one of us has experienced it in a different way.

Guma89 / CC BY-SA (

The effect of the Coronavirus Pandemic will continue for some time (years?) to come and has already hit some very hard. I know of several people who are at risk of redundancy and many freelancers who have seen their income completely dry up. Like a giant game of Jenga, the heritage, arts, hospitality and retail sectors seem ready to topple as the precarious financial support put into place by the Chancellor of the Exchequer is gradually removed.

What was it like for me?

Pre-Covid19, I worked from home and used a co-working space 2-3 times a week. I would attend meetings locally and in London. I used my freedom as a freelancer to get to exercise classes a couple of times a week. For me from March onward the world shrunk, as it has for everyone, to my home office. The confinement was made worse by an accident at Easter where I scalded my foot badly so I couldn’t even walk very far!

So what was it really like for me?

The good thing about being a freelancer is the variety of places and people and the projects you work on. In March I was involved in preparing two applications to the National Lottery Heritage Fund and in evaluating another building project which was due to open this summer. The National Lottery Heritage Fund’s closure of all new applications stopped the two projects I was working on in their tracks and so far there seems to be no prospect of these funds reopening while understandably they deal with the devastating impact of Coronavirus on the Heritage sector. Thankfully, one of these clients is keen to work with me on alternate schemes so it’s not all doom and gloom. The third project has been continuing but understandably delayed. This has impacted on both my workload and finances. I am fortunate to have two ongoing clients and I am thankful to both of these for keeping my bank account out of the red. I didn’t qualify for the government self-employed scheme because I had a substantial PAYE project in the qualifying year.

I thrive on being busy and enjoy the buzz of juggling appointments, deadlines and workload and that’s what I missed most. The lack of variety of work and appointments which punctuate the week and provide points to bounce off and help to organise your time made it difficult for me sometimes to focus and led to lower levels of motivation. A Zoom meeting doesn’t provide the same level of energy as bouncing ideas around in a face to face meeting. I missed the side conversations which both provide social bonding and also help to fill in the gaps, something you don’t get in the slightly clunky online format.

As the days all merged into one I found it hard to keep the momentum up and maintain my self motivation. I’ve had to really try hard to update lists and keep looking ahead to ensure that deadlines are not missed and at the same time try to protect weekends so that work didn’t stretch across the full 7 days of the week and I didn’t lose track of time completely.

It’s not all bad though...

Like everyone, once my foot healed, I was able to enjoy walks in our semi-rural town. We live literally on the edge of town and on the edge of the Salisbury Plain. To post a letter I can take a route either through an unmanaged wood and along a country track or along a busy A road. The choice is easy… It was great to take time to note the changing the season blossom changing to fruits and crops growing from green shoots to golden wheat and barley. The bird sound and the variety of flowers in the hedgerows. Enjoying the views. It was also a time to discover the back routes and tracks in and around the town where I live and trying to ditch the car. My garden too has benefited and I have found a lot of solace in my greenhouse completed not long before Lockdown.

New skills

Like everyone else I’ve had to up my digital game and learn new skills and platforms quickly. In my other life I am a Churchwarden and along with Zoom services we’ve moved to YouTube and Mailchimp and made much greater use of the website – all of which I manage. I’m still learning, always my favoured method to learn a new skill; learning by doing. The Facebook account has also been more active too. Learning these skills with a lot of older retired people has had its funny moments but many have adapted very quickly to these new technologies.

Less busy-ness

Though I have missed the fixed points in the diary that appointments and meetings create and I have found this made it difficult to keep up focus and motivation, NOT having a lot of things in my diary was also freeing to a certain degree and allowed for more time at home to enjoy the garden and do a few home projects like the dress I started and nearly finished 5 years ago! I just wish the charity shops were open so I could get rid of more clutter…

Taking stock

I am a follower of the inspirational duo who run the Museum Freelance Network, Marge Ainsley and Christina Lister. They have both been freelance in the sector for several years and have been doing a great deal to champion the needs of freelancers working in the heritage sector: check out their website for some great Covid19 related resources. I caught the Being Freelance Podcast with Marge Ainsley which came out in July. This gave me pause for thought. I needed to do something about the sense of drifting without much focus on the future and Marge talked about taking a whole month off to take stock of her business and think about what she wanted for the future. I wasn’t quite ready to take off a whole month but I could manage a couple of days. As I am drafting this Blog I have just completed two days away from home, fully catered in a retreat house. They feed me at regular intervals and the rest of the time I have been able to look at my diary for the rest of the year, think about what areas I would like to focus on and how I can do that. It’s been great and I so needed a holiday as I haven’t been away since February.

My plans include taking a half a day each week to do some personal study and reflection to keep up my skills, learn new things and do some research to ensure that I am up to date with my practice. I hope that the new structures I have planned work out and bed in. Life is so uncertain at the moment but I am determined to learn some new habits!

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Where did 2019 go?

Merry Christmas!

Where has the year gone? As a freelancer it’s been a bit of a roller coaster year and I had to hold my nerve as I did have a bit of a “dry” patch and subsequent crisis in confidence. But the year has finished strongly and I am really looking forward to 2020.

I’d like to say thanks to a few people and organisations who have helped me out this year. The wonderful Debs Poneskis who really helped me out at a difficult time. The @MuseumFreelance team Christina and Marge whose annual conference in March in Manchester was reaffirming, my former colleague Sarah Simmonds @StonehengeandAveburyWHS who is always encouraging and supportive, the ever wise Tim Burge, Helen Horler @CultureForce and the great team @WorldHeritageUK. There are many more – I hope you know who you are.

In the end 2020 was OK. I enjoyed a variety of jobs, the highlight being my first international work in the incredible Göbekli Tepe World Heritage Site in the Province of Şanliurfa in south eastern Turkey. This largely undiscovered area for UK visitors has a lot to offer. Its proximity to the Syrian border is likely to deter any but the most intrepid visitors for a while but is worth a trip. The site itself is 6,000 years older than Stonehenge and is truly fascinating. A pre-pottery Neolithic Site in the “Fertile Crescent” the artefacts revealed are astonishing for their sophistication. Şanliurfa, or just Urfa, is an ancient city, the birthplace of the prophet Abraham. It has been controlled by the Assyrians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Byzantines, the Arabs amongst others and also known as Edessa by the Romans and the Crusaders.

‘Urfa Man’ Şanliurfa Archaeological Museum c.10,000BC

Göbekli Tepe itself, despite its age, is a relatively new tourism site having only been discovered in the 1960s and excavated from the 1990s. It was inscribed onto the World Heritage list in 2018 and in the same year a new visitor centre with exhibition centre was also opened. 2019 was designated the “Year of Göbekli Tepe” by Turkish Tourism and the site has seen some real spikes in visitor numbers in the last year which, if not managed, have the potential to put the fragile archaeological site at risk.

Göbekli Tepe Archaeological Site

I am working with the DMO for the Province and the Ministry of Culture and Tourism to develop a visitor management plan for the Site, the first of its kind in Turkey. The team there are great to work with and it’s a great site to be associated with. I look forward to continuing the association as the visitor management plan develops. I’d like to thank ever supportive heritage colleagues at Newgrange, Stonehenge and the Roman Baths who have provided useful case studies and examples of best practice that I can share with the team in Turkey.

Replica of stele from the archaeological site at the Archaeological Museum Sanliurfa
showing the stone carvings

I still have capacity into 2020 – do get in touch if you think that I can help you…

Have a wonderful Christmas and a successful and happy 2020.

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Andover, Westbury and reshaping our communities

I’ve been living in Westbury for around 5 years now but my relationship with the town goes back to 2003 when I was the English Heritage manager responsible for the White Horse. It’s a funny old place. Most people simply drive through it on the busy A350 , a route which doesn’t show the town in its best light. There is an historic core which is pretty much hidden from the drivers passing through. This means that not only the commuters and travellers using the A350, but even the new residents of the many houses built in the last 10 years, are unaware of the history of the town in which they live.

Despite nearly doubling in size, like many towns it has suffered a massive decline in its retail offer with just a small number of mostly small independent shops (baker, butcher, chemist, cards and stationery) and a range of charity and fast food shops. It does of course have the wonderful Aladdin’s Cave, Davies store where you can find pretty much everything from a tap washer to a clothes airer, to baking and sugar craft essentials along with plants and garden equipment; without it Westbury would be much poorer.

At a recent consultation session I led for the Westbury Neighbourhood Plan it was sad to hear so many older residents talking wistfully of the range of shops that there used to be and which are no more. I guess this would be common in most small UK towns. When asked for suggestions to improve the town it was clear that they simply wanted a return to the past. The change has been so rapid for those people that they cannot conceive of any other more positive future for the town. Many of them clearly felt that there was no hope for the town and that “they” had given up on Westbury.

Undoubtedly Westbury has not benefitted from any major public investment for many years. A failed attempt in 2009 at a by-pass which would have compromised the setting of that famous White Horse appears to have resulted in Wiltshire Council washing its hands of the town. There must have been planning permission for over 1,000 new houses in Westbury in just the last 5 years with more still on the cards but the town seems to not to have benefitted from any imaginative use of Section 106 or Community Infrastructure Levy from the developers. This growth in the town should have reaped economic benefits for the community but there does not appear to be any and the population growth might have been expected to result in more growth in retail and other services.

Going back to the history of Westbury this is long and rich. Like most Wiltshire towns you don’t have to dig (either literally or figuratively) very deep before finding evidence of the past as a recent blog from the Wiltshire Archaeology Service demonstrates. That historic core hides a pre-Norman centre to the town with a fine Grade I parish church and an attractive churchyard with houses clearly linked to the church community with names like “Verger’s Cottage”. Beyond that are some fine Georgian buildings such as the Old Town Hall and town houses built for the owners of the local mills and other local gentry. The Lopes Arms, a coaching inn dating back to the 1700s. It is an attractive building that has lain empty for over 2 years and would require considerable investment to be able to open again. The ‘Market Place’ hasn’t fulfilled this purpose for some years and would benefit from some radical thinking to make it a more attractive public space which could benefit both residents and businesses alike.

But the new developments are inward looking and often have very poor pedestrian access to the rest of the town. It’s easier to drive to the next town than to walk into Westbury.

Our towns in many cases, it seems to me, have become less human. They are designed for the car not the pedestrian. We seem to spend more time shut up in our homes viewing life vicariously through electronic devices or with our heads bowed staring at a screen and less time talking to others beyond our immediate circle. Our towns need to be better shaped to enable encounters and create opportunities and spaces to join together in community activity.

I have been following the work of the Wiltshire based artist James Aldridge for some time. I first came across him in connection with his work in the Stonehenge landscape as part of the preparation for the Stonehenge Visitor Centre which opened in 2013. There’s another blog developing in my head which connects to his work on walking, art and landscape but for the purposes of this piece I’m interested his most recent project Asking Andover on which he has recently published his own blog.

I attended a celebration event for the project at the Andover Museum. It was great to speak to team members from the Hampshire Cultural Trust who led the project, James Aldridge, volunteers and people who have participated in some of the sessions. Everyone was positive about the experience. Some had loaned family items to the exhibition to share their memories of Andover with the rest of the community. James’ workshops had led to the creation of some beautiful work which will be added to the Museum’s collection in time.

From Anton Lake – 16 Walking Pages James Aldridge
Asking Andover Exhibition, Andover Museum

I love this quote from his blog:

We need a town with places for meeting, connecting and sharing’ was for me the main message that came out of the session.

James Aldridge

The hopes and dreams for Andover that the participants in the project shared with James were very similar to the comments made by those people who spoke to us in Westbury. These are the same issues being discussed by the members of the heritage sub-group which I chair, and the steering group of the Westbury Neighbourhood Plan which is being led by Westbury Town Council.

  • Focusing the town centre on pedestrians and cyclists rather than giving priority to cars. Linking up green spaces and existing pathways
  • Strengthening the relationship between the town and surrounding landscape
  • What can we bring into the town centre to replace the empty shops – homes, work spaces, artist studios, community spaces and many other ideas
  • Making the town more inclusive and welcoming

I am slowly turning ideas over in my mind for something in Westbury using some of the great ideas from the Asking Andover project to help the community of Westbury reconnect with and learn to love their town and its community. If you have an idea, please get in touch as it could only be done in partnership with key organisations already working within the community.

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ARTiculation: Look, Think, Speak; Using Art to build confidence

I’ve been talking with the team of the Roche Court Educational Trust at the New Art Centre, Roche Court recently. I knew of the education work taking place at Roche Court through a colleague but had never visited. What a wonderful and extraordinary place it is!

The New Art Centre was founded in 1958 by the impressive Madeleine Bessborough in Sloane Street, London. She moved her commercial contemporary art gallery out of London to create a spectacular showcase in Roche Court in Wiltshire in 1994. This beautiful house is said to have been originally built for Lord Nelson to retire to. Lord Nelson, as we know, never lived to enjoy his retirement with Emma Hamilton, but the house and grounds are certainly worthy of the nation’s most well-known naval hero. Bessborough has created a beautiful commercial gallery and sculpture park where works can be appreciated in situ both indoors and out.

As you approach the house you are greeted by a selection of stand out sculptures along the drive. My favourites were three of Peter Randall-Page’s monumental pieces: Fructus, Corpus, Phyllotaxus.

I love his simple organic shapes that are so tactile and powerful. The house sits at the top of a dry valley which provides a beautiful setting to show off the art works on display. The fields around the house are home to beautiful russet coloured cattle.

Having a few minutes to spare I was able to explore the grounds where the art works were carefully placed to show them off at their best. I particularly loved the slightly sinister Silent Howler II by Laura Ford; Silent Howler I was there on my first visit but had already been snapped up by the time of my second visit! I loved Ford’s whimsical Dancing Clog Girls too.

Contemporary spaces have been added designed by architect Stephen Marshall. The Artist House, which is modelled on Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge provides space for activities and an ideal gallery space for more domestic scale works and acts as a counterbalance to those on display in the Sculpture Garden.

However, the reason for my visit was to find out more about the ARTiculation competition which was first held in 2006. In essence this is a public speaking competition for students aged 16 – 19 year old using art and architecture as the subject of each 10 minute presentation. It is now a national and international programme with events even taking place in Ireland and in Italy in partnership with the British Council.

I’d urge you to take a look at the ARTiculate website. The testimonies of the young people who have participated in the project speak for themselves as to the benefits of this programme, which is so much more than just talking about art. The great and good of the Art world have been competition adjudicators and this is the one of the strengths of the programme. The link between the Educational Trust started by Madeleine Bessborough and her New Art Centre provides a direct line to contemporary artists like Laura Ford and Director’s of the UK’s foremost museums and art galleries such as Tate Britain, the Ashmolean, the Fitzwilliam and journalists and critics such as Will Gompertz of the BBC.

Looking, Thinking, Speaking

The programme has taken off and developed over the last 13 years. More than 4,000 students a year engage with the scheme. Strong partnerships have developed with over 50 organisations across the sector. It now features the Discover ARTiculation Challenge which is aimed at GCSE students and helps young people to develop the skills necessary to take part in the ARTiculation Prize . This is delivered in conjunction with the University of Leeds.

The Trust is also developing an ARTiculation Network including Ambassadors, Allies and Advocates to help support the alumni of the programme and to enable the programme to be delivered sustainably to more areas and young people across the country.

The Trust are planning to do some work on evaluating and being able to define the benefits more clearly so as to be able to convince busy teachers that it is worth being part of the programme and to unlock much needed funds.

I would urge any secondary school teacher to take a look at this wonderful programme and see how they can use it to develop life skills for their students. Art is a wonderful rich and diverse subject but at its heart ARTiculation is about developing the “soft” skills of young people so that they can progress into the adult world and the world of work with confidence, having developed skills in critical thinking and being able to express themselves articulately.

ARTiculation is changing the future of British art criticism for the best.
Antony Gormley

Roche Court is available to visit every day please see their website for details

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Linda Brothwell: Conversations in the Making Stonehenge Visitor Centre

Anyone who has had any association with Stonehenge will know that it keeps calling you back. I only live a short distance from this World Heritage Site and my membership of English Heritage means that I can pop in any time. This time it was to see the new exhibition in the Visitor Centre – Linda Brothwell’s Conversations in the Making

One of the criteria that Stonehenge and Avebury met as a World Heritage Site was Criterion ii “have exerted great influence , over a span of time or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture, monumental arts or town planning and landscape”. Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site’s case for meeting this criterion is: “The monuments and landscape have had an unwavering influence on architects, artists, historians and archaeologists, and still retain huge potential for future research.”

One of the new elements of the Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site Management Plan 2015, which I co-authored with Sarah Simmonds, was the introduction of Policy 5d: Artists and the creative sector will offer new and inspiring ways for communities and a wide range of visitors to engage with and learn about the OUV of the WHS and the wide range of artistic responses to it both past and present.

To begin to fulfill this we held an Arts Symposium in November 2015 which brought together practitioners, archaeologists, museum and property managers to consider how we could work together to use the arts to interpret, explain and enjoy the historic landscape, building on the incredible creative work of Constable, Turner, Nash, Inshaw and many others. Peter Tyas submitted a guest blog to the Arts in Wiltshire blog after the event.

At that meeting and others, using the Visitor Centre for exhibitions of contemporary art was discussed, and something that I was personally keen to see, so that this tradition of drawing inspiration from the amazing landscape of Stonehenge and Avebury could be shared with both local residents and international visitors to the this iconic archaeological monument. I was delighted when I heard about the exhibition and that this vision was finally coming to fruition so of course I had to come and see for myself.

I had the gallery to myself for the majority of the time which meant that I could enjoy this carefully lit exhibition in peace. Each of the 40 vessels is given plenty of space to demonstrate the range of texture, shape and colour that Brothwell has carefully crafted. Some of them sang out like brightly coloured jewels which is hardly surprising given her training in jewellery, metalwork and silversmithing.

The creation of 40 vessels for this exhibition has been inspired by speaking to ten makers who live and work in the community; key cutter, hairdresser, tattooist, and leather worker, among others. She has also been inspired by prehistoric tools and pottery vessels in both Wiltshire Museum and the Salisbury Museum.

Tools, vessels, making and using our hands; these are the threads that link people and place through time. These are Conversations in the Making.

English Heritage

Commissioned by Ginkgo Projects for Bloor Homes in partnership with English Heritage
Linda Brothwell’s exhibition (the first contemporary art exhibition at Stonehenge) provides an intriguing new way to think about the landscape surrounding Amesbury and Stonehenge and the archaeological objects found here.

“Stonehenge has inspired art and artists for centuries – from those who illustrated medieval manuscripts, to the Romantic paintings by Constable and Turner and more recently artists such as Jeremy Deller. So it’s really exciting to host a contemporary art exhibition at Stonehenge for the first time. Linda Brothwell’s work, which looks at tools and vessels as a thread linking people and place over time, will provide an intriguing new way to think about Stonehenge and the archaeological objects found here. A visit to the new exhibition coupled with a trip to Wiltshire and Salisbury Museums to see some of the ancient objects that have inspired Linda’s work would provide a fascinating picture of Stonehenge and make a great day out.”

Susan Greaney English Heritage historian

It’s really positive to see the use of the Stonehenge Visitor Centre temporary exhibition space for this purpose; joining the historic landscape, community and art together in this way and introducing contemporary art which reflects the landscape and its archaeology. I hope that this will be the first of many such exhibitions. Stonehenge and Avebury has had such a powerful effect on artists in the past and will certainly continue to do so.

The exhibition is on until 24 November. Do take the time to take a look at this exhibition and to visit both the Wiltshire Museum in nearby Devizes and The Salisbury Museum which should be an essential part of any visit to Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site.

One final link that some may find interesting is the project 30 objects / 30 years These objects were put together by Courtney Burmaster as part of her work experience while undertaking her Masters at UCL. This collection of objects demonstrate the range of objects found in or inspired by the landscapes of Stonehenge and Avebury.