What is community heritage? Who is working on community heritage projects? And where are these projects?
This event was the latest stage in a project sponsored by Archaeology Scotland , Historic Environment Scotland and Northlight Heritage to get more information about the extent of community heritage and understand what support these projects and the people involved in them might want.
Jon and I from the Arlington Baths Club History Group went along to learn more and share our ideas so far, as fairly new arrivals in the heritage world.
Our first session considered:
- What is community heritage?
- What are the specific opportunities or benefits that a wider network could enable or support?
- What are the specific concerns or problems relating to a wider network?
- What other issues or comments should be considered?
Some massive questions there! And we knew that an hour’s workshop was not going to come up with all the answers.
But what was immediately very apparent was that the things that constitute community heritage are extremely varied. For example, as well as us – a Victorian member-owned swimming pool – the other projects represented on my table included:
- a group which is saving and developing a 200-year-old mill building
- a group focused on the local history of city suburb
- an author and storyteller who is recording and sharing her Traveller history and culture
- a project creating new pilgrimage routes in Scotland
- a local archaeological society
It was clear from the outset that our variety was a strength. What we identified as community heritage was not only buildings and places, crucial though they are, but also artefacts, archives, documents, happenings, stories, culture and memories. And there will be others.
So that first session produced long ribbons of post-it notes scribbled with thoughts, comments and ideas!
Next we were given an insight into some of the data coming out of the community heritage survey. There’s more data wrangling to do but key concerns and interests were – as might be expected – funding and support. People were looking for easier access to information and support and the opportunities to make links with other organisations and potential funders. Respondents wanted to do more research and reach new audiences but they were also very interested in buying properties – potentially asset transfers to communities under the Community Empowerment Act.
Rob from Ergardia heritage consultancy explained some of the difficulties in running the survey – simply knowing who to contact and how to contact them – that might be resolved by a directory of group, projects and individuals in a community heritage network.
In our afternoon workshops we tried to come up with some concrete ideas about what a network could be and do. It seemed to me that there were two strands of thought; one focused it being a community of interest to share information, ideas and experiences, which could also provide encouragement and motivation. The other was that it could be a focus for activity that celebrates community heritage and thus contribute to the sustainability of projects by encouraging new – younger, and more diverse – people to get involved.
Perhaps there’s scope for both strands. But everyone knew that it would need resources; where funding or expertise for running a network might come from is not yet clear.
The attendees seemed to feel that the value of a heritage network was not simply because it would help all of us there who already love history but because what we’re doing is important to others, even though they may not know that yet. Throughout the day, people used words like memory, place, identity, value and legacy. People felt strongly that there was a need and responsibility to make sure community heritage projects find ways to help local people, and particularly children and young people, know the stories of their places and the peoples of their communities. That’s important because discovering the past – who people were and what they did – widens horizons and fires new ideas.
There’s a lovely example in this film made by the Govan Young project which introduced primary school children to their area’s history. This is a short trailer for a film about the project which shows just how much it meant to the children to learn about their place’s past.
(The full 30-minute film is available on YouTube.)
It was a very interesting day. I’m glad the Arlington Baths could contribute and I’m looking forward to seeing what comes next. It also provoked some thoughts for me about what different communities the Arlington Baths could connect with via our heritage, and where we could go with our projects… in time…!
I learnt a lot about the huge variety of heritage projects in Scotland and met some lovely people doing some marvellous things: all very inspiring!