Wednesday 22 September 2021

Bringing History To You!

Dan Edmonds is the Community Engagement Officer at Cheshire Archives and Local Studies - quite a challenging role to take on amidst 
Covid restrictions!  His post is supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and this is a snapshot of the valuable work he has been doing as part of our ongoing 'Cheshire Archives: A Story Shared' project.

Since starting at Cheshire Archives six months ago, my work as Community Engagement Officer has been an interesting journey. This is my first job in the Cheshire region, having been based just across the border in sunny Manchester for the past decade. It’s been a great opportunity to learn about the different groups of people which call this historic region home, find out what they want from an archive, and to help introduce our service to new groups of people.

As readers may well be aware, we are currently in the midst of applying for funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund. We hope to use the project funding to set up two new history centres - one in Chester and another in Crewe - as well as to develop new ways of making the collections we hold accessible to more people across the region.

My role in all this has been to meet with community groups, arts and heritage organisations, and members of the public. The aim has been to find out what people know about our service already, what kind of events, educational programmes, and activities they would like to see us host, and to find out how we can support and work alongside other organisations doing valuable work in the region.

Some of this has involved running surveys, focus groups, and discussions with people we want to work with and reach out to. This hasn’t always been straightforward given the pandemic and the restrictions on meeting in person! Often when you run consultations like these, it’s best to attend meetings of other organisations and ask their thoughts face-to-face, but that simply hasn’t been an option for several months. Instead we’ve run a battery of focus groups and discussions on Teams and Zoom, asked culture, heritage, and community organisations to run online surveys with their members and service users, and talked with individuals who run these groups about their perspectives.

We’ve had some really positive discussions, learning about what people find interesting about their local area, the different ways we can use the arts to bring local heritage to life, and finding out how we can help local communities through heritage-based events and activities. We’re looking at how we can use Audio-Visual workshops to teach young people about the history of the River Weaver, how asylum records can throw light on how women’s mental health is talked about today, how our historic maps and naturalist collections can shine a light on historical and contemporary biodiversity, and how histories of migration in Cheshire can help us understand the importance of different communities in shaping the region, to name just a few!

We’ve also been learning about ongoing and exciting new initiatives that we can support – from services which partner volunteers to talk with isolated elder members of the community, to providing resources for ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) and BSL (British Sign Language) classes in the region. We’ve been looking at how we can work with voluntary organisations who train young people in cooking and cheffing, drawing on our collection of historic cookbooks and recipes. It’s been really interesting speaking to organisations which represent marginalised communities, and hearing from them how we can reshape our activities to ensure that we are as inclusive as possible.

We’ve also been running events, both to bring archival materials to new audiences, and to trial new ideas we have about how to make our collections relevant to larger numbers of people. We’ve headed down to Chester Market to talk to members of the public about what our new history centres and digital services should look like, we ran a drop-in ‘Document Repair Shop’ to demonstrate what the conservation process looks like in practice, and we’ve worked alongside staff from the University of Chester and Cheshire West and Chester Museums to set up a memory-gathering day and pop-up display about Brown’s of Chester. It was wonderful to speak with so many former employees and one of my personal highlights was to see impromptu reunions between members of staff who hadn’t seen each other in years!


Most recently I’ve been preparing for our online cookalong, hosted by theatre chef Leo Burtin, which drew on some of the recipes and remedies that we hold in our collections.  The Taste of History event was attended by around 30 people, with many cooking along on the day. We saw some truly impressive ‘ragoos’ and syrups being prepared, and heard about a whole host of family recipes and remedies which were important to people! It was wonderful to see how Cheshire’s culinary traditions could inspire people in so many different ways.  And I’m currently developing reports on our consultations that can go in our final bid to the Lottery Heritage Fund. It’s certainly a busy time, but also a very exciting and rewarding one!

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