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Inspirational learning and engagement in Blaenavon World Heritage Site

I’ve just come back from a World Heritage UK meeting in Blaenavon World Heritage Site (WHS). The meeting was aimed at learning and engagement colleagues working in World Heritage Sites and it was great to see people representing sites as diverse as Fountain’s Abbey, Derwent Valley Mills, Kew, Saltaire, Frontiers of the Roman Empire and more! We also welcomed some of the UK’s tentative and aspiring World Heritage Sites from Shetland, North Wales, the Wirral and the Flow Country in Scotland.

It was really inspiring to be in the same room as colleagues who are all passionate about sharing what’s so special about their World Heritage Sites with the wider community.

We heard about the increasing role of person-centred engagement and using heritage to meet the individual needs of some really challenging and difficult to reach groups. We also thought about formal and informal learning in a more abstract way with Jamie Davies who has just completed his PhD Thesis with the Ironbridge Institute on World Heritage Learning which will be published shortly.

  • Derwent Valley Mills are using the inspiration of the entrepreneurial spirit of the inventors of factories to help young people to learn practical business skills.
  • Blaenavon Town Council and National Museum Wales are programming successful intergenerational activities working in partnerships in their Dementia Friendly town.
  • Torfaen Borough Council and the Blaenavon WHS team have been leading for some time on their Youth Ambassadors Scheme, which thanks to an injection of National Lottery Heritage Funding is set to expand to more World Heritage Sites across the UK.
  • Cadw through their Unloved Heritage project are meeting the needs of hard to reach young people often resulting in unexpected outcomes.

All of these projects have people at the centre and heritage is one tool in the practitioners toolkit but the impact on the individuals is meaningful and lasting.

All of this took place in the former Bath House of The Big Pit in Blaenavon. One of the joys of taking part in the World Heritage UK meetings is the opportunity to visit World Heritage Sites around the UK. Although not my first visit to Blaenavon it was my first (and it won’t be my last!) visit to The Big Pit, part of the National Museum Wales group. The trip underground was fascinating and brought to life by the ex-miners who are able to give first hand accounts of what life was like underground.

There are 27 mainland UK World Heritage Sites – these are sites on a par with Taj Mahal, the Pyramids at Giza and the Great Wall of China. Why not explore your own world class heritage sites this year?

Project information

Melksham Remembers

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I’m just in the final wrapping up stage of a year long First World War commemoration project in the Melksham area. There’s always a few loose ends that need tying up at the end of the project and it’s also a good time to reflect on what’s been achieved.

We started the project in the late summer of 2017 and an exhibition in November 2018 seemed a long way off then. As anyone who has put together an exhibition knows it’s not!

This Heritage Lottery Funded project was supported by the Wiltshire Council Melksham Area Board and the lead organisation was Melksham Town Council. They were keen that the project should explore what life was like on the home front rather than the usual focus on names on a war memorial,  though that’s important too.

The first step was to recruit local people to carry out the research. We held a recruitment event in Melksham library who were extremely supportive throughout the life of the project. People came and were keen (first win!). We held an induction session at the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre. The team at the History Centre were another source of continued support with help and advice. They have a wide range of expertise within the team and the archive is comprehensive and well run. The volunteers loved using their services and always felt welcome.

The activity plan included working with young people, older people and engaging the wider community. It culminated in a public exhibition at the Melksham Town Hall 10 – 11 November 2018 with special education sessions for local schools on the Friday supported by the Wiltshire Council Heritage Education Officer, Ruth Butler. Booking the Wiltshire Scrapstore encouraged families to attend with around 45 youngsters creating poppies and bi-planes. In all around 700 people visited. The exhibition then toured local venues with stays in Seend, Semington, Shaw, Broughton Gifford and Bowerhill. In total we estimate around 1,000 saw the exhibition which was overwhelmingly well received.

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I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know Melksham and the surrounding area better and the volunteers. Its another win that they have agreed to continue their researches after the project concludes. To find out more about their work see their website

If you think that I could help you with volunteer recruitment and management or similar community engagement project please do get in touch!

Project information

Evaluating your arts project

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I’ve been privileged to work recently with the team at the Trowbridge Museum on developing how they will evaluate the impact of their exciting Onwards and Upwards Expansion Project which will begin this summer and see the Museum closed until 2020.

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On this project I collaborated with Helen Horler of Culture Force – always a great way to work – pooling skills and resources to ensure the client gets the best result.

What makes freelancing so great is the window it provides into new teams and organisations and I love getting to know how each team ticks, what makes them so special, exploring new collections and finding out more about communities that they work with.

Trowbridge at one time was know as the “Manchester of the West” because of the large number of mills creating woollen cloth. These structures still have a huge presence on the town and the houses of the clothiers who owned and managed the factories are impressive buildings in this relatively small town. Indeed so impressive are they that Pevsner in his Buildings of England described them as “palaces”.

One of the aims of the project is to tell the story of Trowbridge in the industrial history of England and the West Country. This is internal imagean essential aim as Trowbridge has experienced a period of economic decline following the closure of the mills and other businesses such as the Ushers Brewery and Bowyer’s sausage factory. Many people are unaware of this industrial past.

The Project will see an expansion of the Museum into another floor of the former Salter’s Mill giving it more space to tell Trowbridge’s story and to create a better temporary exhibition space to assist in the museum’s long term sustainability.

It has been so great to work with the team. We are currently gathering base line data so that they can measure the impact of the Project in the months and years following the reopening. I am looking forward to following their progress and supporting them throughout the development.

Onwards and Upwards!! 

Project information

Exploring the City of Bath as a Great Spa of Europe

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I was really pleased to be invited to assist the City of Bath World Heritage Site team with their part of the nomination bid process as part of the serial transnational tentative world heritage site; the ‘Great Spas of Europe’.

Like every specialised area, the business of World Heritage is full of jargon and technical terms.

The City of Bath is already ‘inscribed’ as a World Heritage Site (30 years ago this year) and is one of 1,052 (as of 2016) sites to be given this accolade.

The business of bidding to be added to this list is long and time consuming (you wouldn’t want it to be too easy after all) and the applicant, in theory the national government or ‘State Party’ but, in fact local people with passion and belief, have to complete a lengthy nomination document. In this dossier the State Party have to demonstrate that their city or heritage site is up there with the best and deserves to have recognition as a heritage asset of ‘Outstanding Universal Value*’ i.e. it is important not just to the local community or nation but to the whole of humanity.

The work gets much more complicated when you make a bid for a ‘serial transnational’ site.  This means a site that has more than one location and transcends national boundaries.  An example of this is the  Frontiers of the Roman Empire World Heritage Site. This includes Hadrian’s Wall, the Antonine Wall and the Limes of the Roman Empire in Germany. 

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Each of the 7 nations and 11 sites that make up the Great Spas of Europe has a fascinating story to tell as meeting places, places of learning, healing and pleasure. The sites have to collectively demonstrate that they are worthy of being added to the World Heritage List by meeting one or more of the 6 criteria for cultural world heritage sites.

The City of Bath has a 2,000 year history of healing from the Celtic culture, through the Roman period to the Benedictine community of the Middle Ages and to the Corporation of the hey-day of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries (think Jane Austen). I can’t claim to have done the research myself, others claim the credit for that, but it has been fascinating to learn about the characters who came to Bath and its hot springs drawn by the distractions and diversions as well as its reputed healing powers as I pulled together the draft City of Bath’s Management Plan as a component part of the Great Spas of Europe.

I’ve really enjoyed finding out more about Bath and its place in history whilst preparing the draft management plan. Bath had the first purpose built hotel outside of London and it’s impact on town planning and diagnostic medicine should not be underrated. Tourism and holidays were pioneered by Bath and the other towns of the Great Spas of Europe opening up the whole idea of rest and recreation for the new middle classes.

The work continues on the nomination bid and I look forward to following its successful conclusion.

As a former Stonehenge World Heritage Site Coordinator, member of the World Heritage UK Board and currently their Finance Manager I am able to advise and support on World Heritage issues. Contact me!

*49. Outstanding Universal Value means cultural and/or natural significance which is so exceptional as to transcend national boundaries and to be of common importance for present and future generations of all humanity. As such, the permanent protection of this heritage is of the highest importance to the international community as a whole. The Committee defines the criteria for the inscription of properties on the World Heritage List. [Operational Guidelines 2016)