How can we improve the legacies of archaeological community engagement in place making?

Posted on July 1, 2020


Engaging local communities is part of the remit of many development-led archaeological investigations, whether through open days, site visits, active participation, school outreach and evening talks. This engagement varies but its underlying aim is to support the understanding and enjoyment of the communities’ local historic environment. However, this is almost always short term, project focused and limited in terms of scope and impact – when the dig is over, the engagement is over. Often the only legacy is a box of finds deposited with a local museum.What happens with the communities that move into the new development – who is responsible for engaging with them? Should archaeology continue to have an active role in the place making process and create a living legacy rather than just result in a box of stuff and a place name reference?This session will explore how we can improve the community engagement aspect of archaeological investigations to maximise the potential for sustained engagement with local communities and to build long lasting, positive legacies. We are interested in hearing about attempts to do this from across the heritage sector. A goal of the session is to capture a series of five ‘helpful tips’ to promote new approaches to how we can improve public engagement and longer lasting, more sustainable public benefit.

Dan Miles, Historic England

Mike Nevell, Centre for Applied Archaeology, University of Salford

The Sherford Community, Old and New: Changing client’s attitudes to community engagement

Community engagement and outreach can often be difficult to ‘sell’ to clients, to convince them that paying for such is worthwhile and a benefit to them. Wessex Archaeology’s work on the construction of Sherford, a new town on the edge of Plymouth, has proved to be the opposite. After years of developing a good working relationship with the overall client, their chief consultants and media firm, archaeology and heritage is playing a central role in the establishment of a new community, built in a landscape which has been proven to be occupied for 12,000 years.

Gareth Chaffey (Wessex Archaeology)

Lessons from the Past: The Cambourne Village College Young Roots Project

Cambourne is the largest and fastest growing new town in south Cambridgeshire. The area was excavated by Wessex Archaeology twenty years ago and since then, over 10,000 people have moved to Cambourne. The town is set to double in size in coming years and a site to the west of Cambourne was evaluated by Oxford Archaeology in 2015. During the last two years, OA East have worked with pupils at the secondary school, Cambourne Village College, to co-design a project in which they took part in an archaeological excavation and curated a pop-up museum. This paper will review the challenges and pitfalls of working with multiple stakeholders, timeframes and priorities in a new and evolving community, but also the exciting opportunities for using archaeological archives and empowering young people to learn about the past and create social value in new and not-so-new developments.

Clemency Cooper (Oxford Archaeology)

Museums and Place-making

From a museum’s perspective, we are often only considered as a dusty archive, an end recipient, keepers of the records in boxes and files, responsible for their maintenance and safeguarding. But we are often the first and main point of contact and engagement with our local communities… who come to ask questions, learn, research and volunteer – to be actively involved in promoting and advocating the important role of heritage in our cities, towns and villages. However, in the planning process we are often excluded or not involved actively at the start of the process. Contractors undertaking “public engagement” during fieldwork forget we exist and work in isolation. We pick up the pieces when the digging is over and the development is completed, creating new narratives from the boxes of finds and records left for us – but wouldn’t it be so much better to have been involved at the start? This talk will give some examples – the good and the bad, and showcase how the active involvement of museums can contribute to the place making process and sustaining community engagement and participation long after the dig is over….

David Dawson (Wiltshire Museum)

Bootham Crescent: Sharing Memories, Shaping Place

Place-shaping and the enhancement of public benefit are key corporate aims for Historic England. Examples are needed to show how these aims can be addressed by the heritage sector and how they might then feed into ways in which we can shape our environment to give it greater meaning and resilience.

Bootham Crescent has been home to York City FC since 1932. The Club has announced its move to the new Community Stadium at Monk’s Cross on the outskirts of York. The present season ending in April 2019 will therefore be the last at Bootham Crescent. The ground will be redeveloped for housing.

The last 25 years have witnessed a concentrated and comprehensive period of demolition, redevelopment and relocation of football grounds. Many have now disappeared below housing estates, supermarkets and retail parks, without a trace or nod of recognition to their history and heritage.

Yet research has shown that football grounds are keenly valued as cherished places and repositories of memory, conveying intense senses of identity and belonging with the power to stir hearts and minds and evoke strong and enduring social responses. This is especially true when grounds are relocated and the fan base is dislocated.

Interrogating the relationship between place and memory, between tangible and intangible heritage, is always very difficult but for football in particular it is a very important challenge, and one that remains under-researched. Bootham Crescent offers an opportunity to meet this challenge, to test imaginative ways of involving people for whom the ground holds great meaning, and to explore why they value the site and how it should be memorialised.

Jason Wood (Heritage Consultancy Services)

‘Community Archaeology’ Projects and Legacies: A case study from Nottingham, 2014-2018

Since 2011, Trent & Peak Archaeology has been part of the York Archaeological Trust; a charitable trust with a commitment to ‘building better lives through heritage’. As such, we have a clear remit to try and use archaeology to educate and empower people. In September 2013, following receipt of a CBA Community Archaeology Trainee grant, we took a strategic decision to try and grow our ‘Community Archaeology’ department and improve our public impact in Nottingham.

This paper will take the opportunity to look back at some of the mainly HLF funded community projects and initiatives that we have been involved in and instigated during the last five years. Case studies include a project researching former aggregates landscapes at Attenborough Nature Reserve, undertaking allotment archaeology and an oral history project at St. Anns, and community projects carried out at Lenton Priory during the building of the new Nottingham Tram network.

The paper will use the case studies to narrate our experience of project ‘legacies’, and to highlight what, for us, are some of the key themes as to why some projects are more successful than others. The paper will conclude by providing some thoughts on how future initiatives might best proceed, especially within the governance framework recently provided by the HLF and our local curators and councils.

Gareth Davies (Trent & Peak Archaeology)

Dig Greater Manchester

This paper will look at the social impact of Dig Greater Manchester, one of the largest community archaeology projects of the early 21st century run between 2011 and 2016. Central to the project was an attempt to reach communities who would not otherwise engage in heritage activities, which is why the 11 excavations were conducted on local authority owned land (parks) in some of the most economically and socially deprived wards in the city region. This was the culmination of 15 years of community archaeology work which saw the development of growing support framework for community and volunteer engagement with local archaeology in the Manchester region. A central research aim of the project was an assessment of its social value. This was built into the project design and built upon the earlier work. This was researched through traditional data gathering techniques such as feedback forms (nearly 300), but also using more recent social media platforms, and importantly by structured interviews of 30 individuals led by Salford Uni psychologist Dr Sharon Coen. The results are some very detailed data on the role of archaeology in identity forming and social linkages in an urban former industrial area of northern England.

Mike Nevell (University of Salford)

Decolonising our approach to archaeological community engagement

Engaging local communities is part of the remit of many development-led archaeological investigations. CIfA’s standard and guidance for archaeological field evaluation sets out that WSI’s “should set out how public benefits may be achieved by means of engagement, participation and/or dissemination of the results both during and after the project”. It also sets out that “In addition to conventional publication, innovative forms of public engagement should be considered”. The work we undertake as archaeologists has the potential to be of great public and social value. However, the very society that we operate within has changed considerably since the publication of the first planning guidelines for archaeology (PPG16), and the social and demographic make-up of our profession does not reflect the society we claim to serve. The majority of professional archaeologists are graduates entering the sector having experienced a curriculum and system of teaching that is heavily biased towards the narrative, methods and practice of one culture.

This paper argues that this is impacting on our ability to fully engage with wider communities, and explores what the decolonisation of our approach to engagement might look like. For archaeology to continue to have an active role in the place making process then we need to understand and connect with the people within the place. To improve the engagement aspect of archaeological investigations, to maximise the potential for sustained engagement with local communities, and to build long lasting legacies we must begin to question and decolonise approaches to archaeological community engagement. In a time of austerity the paper emphasises that we don’t need to re-invent the wheel to establish positive, meaningful connections with communities, or to create longer lasting, more sustainable public benefit. But we must develop new ways of thinking and consider more innovative forms of public engagement. Through active participation and planned activities participants are provided with opportunities for self-reflection, and take home tips to promote new approaches.

Laura Hampden

GLAAS, CIfA Equality and Diversity Group, Co-Chair Historic England Racial Equality Network

Seeming and being are not one and the same

Two long established community groups, both are the “go to” group in the region, with publications and similar membership figures – they seem to be the same but in practice each offer quite different sense of place.

Examples of projects carried out by these groups will be given, one is prominent in the local and regional mindset, the sense of place they have created with their local discoveries and excavations have made the international press. The other has produced important work that influenced planning decisions but were unable to be part of any further promotion of a sense of place due to circumstances outside their control.

Community groups can follow the same guidelines in best practice but, when it comes to applying standard for developing a sense of place it can’t be done, each group and location presents its own unique personality which requires perseverance and lateral thinking. This presentation will show how both groups has done exactly that.

Debbie Frearson (Independent)

It’s all in the Question: Exploring our legacy of engagement in the Yorkshire Wolds through the development of a Heritage Research Strategy

Historic England is currently funding the production of a research strategy for the Yorkshire Wolds but who is it for; who will use it; who will shape it; and will it help us to engage wider communities and the people who live in the Wolds? What exactly will it mean for their place? This paper will explore how heritage can act as a prism for exploring how places, communities and people change over time and how they can consider what change may look like in the future. It will explore the importance of understanding place and the aspiration of people in developing heritage programmes and project which might has lasting legacies.

Neil Redfern (Historic England)

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