The Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre alongside partners* have been so excited to be successful in their National Lottery Heritage Fund bid back in August 2022. This success prompted a very quick turnaround to get the DigiCreative Heritage project up and running, but we managed it and are now working with a wonderful group of ten young people aged 16+ with varying needs. If you’d like to find out more about the project and its aims you can do so here, but essentially the project is to engage the group with archive material that they may have never had a chance to access before, learning new skills along the way, meeting new people and using archive items to inspire them to have a go at various creative techniques, leading to a touring exhibition.
We have reached session four of nine; here’s how the group have been getting on so far…
Session one started off with introductions and getting to know yous, with a group agreement put into place after a discussion amongst the participants. Louise, the project mentor, had everyone joining in with a group game that wasn’t scary at all, and with help to familiarise themselves, everyone began searching the online catalogues for material that they thought they might find interesting. We compared the online catalogues to the paper finding aids and realised both had benefits – the paper sources were good to browse through if you had no idea where to start or what the History Centre’s collections might hold. Everyone was getting the hang of searching and writing down their reference numbers and descriptions of items, things were already getting interesting!
Of course, the project is all about heritage and creativity, so in the afternoon the group got a chance to have a go at animation with one of three creatives working on the project. Caroline Rudge demonstrated using the story of a real local benefactor from the 15th century, Maud Heath from Bremhill, who left some money in trust to build a causeway to enable people to get to Chippenham safely. We saw an animation of the story and then the group split into two to work on producing quick animations – these mini productions looked brilliant! The participants were already starting to gel as a group and were working really well together – a great start.
Session two continued on the same theme, and the participants were able to start examining the items they’d discovered via the catalogues. One of the History Centre’s archivists explained how to handle the documents and why this is so important. Everyone learnt how to assess their items, filling in a questionnaire which asked questions such as ‘How old is your item?’, ‘How might it have been produced?’ ‘What drew you to it?’ and attention was drawn to the importance of referencing. This week’s taster creative session was printmaking and montage work – who knew you could create prints with a pasta maker?!! Creative Kirsty Jones was innovative and attentive; we all very much enjoyed another exciting session.
Session three found the participants continuing to look at their items, and order new ones too, presenting the details on an excel spreadsheet. It was wonderful to see how engaged they were with the History Centre’s collections, showing a genuine passion and excitement for history. It was hard to get them to come away for their break and lunch sessions! The afternoon was spent learning how to create sound effects using storytelling and special effects. With our final creative (Ian McGinn’s) help the group created a short story which centred on a spooky folktale and the effects were amazing! We all realised how powerful these creative applications could be and the group began looking forward to sessions 5-7 when they would be creating their own.
Session four found us with snow and an unexpectedly tricky walk to Chippenham Museum through Monkton Park. We were met by Collections and Exhibitions Officer Alan Fuller who introduced us to the museum’s collections on display and latest exhibition. He explained the point and process of curation and why it was so important, and things to consider when creating a display (something the group would soon be doing). We all had a fun time exploring, the group being tasked with each finding one item that they liked and taking a photograph of it. We even discovered a persimmon fruit tree next to an old stone wall behind the museum, a relic of the site’s old use when it was a house and garden – a photo was taken and some of the fruit collected to sample! An extremely enjoyable and worthwhile trip to a brilliant museum that Chippenham residents are very fortunate to have right on their doorstep. We also popped around the corner and stopped off at Chippenham Library, where the participant’s exhibition and celebration event will kick off the touring exhibition. It was good to see the space and be welcomed by such friendly library staff.
In the afternoon the group learnt to use the digital cameras that the staff operate at the History Centre to take high resolution images of their items, and all is set for resuming with the creative work to design their very own exhibitions after the Christmas break in week 6 in January.
The story so far has been a journey of learning and discovery. New skills, new items to explore, things to create and plans for the future. There has been fun and laughter, with everyone getting to know each other and enjoying each other’s company, becoming more confident as each week progresses. Some find this easier than others, but everyone is taking part and engaging in their own way, with a wonderful group identity and feel of acceptance and shared interest. We look forward to what January will bring.
Archives & Local Studies Lead (Development, Wellbeing and Local Studies) and DigiCreative Project Administrator, Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre
*The DigiCreative Heritage partners are Louise Jordan, Building Bridges, Prime Theatre, Wiltshire Libraries, Wiltshire Family and Community Learning, Chippenham Museum