Unloved Heritage – Discovering Wales’ Forgotten History Whilst Engaging the Next Generation
I came across ‘Ceredigion Off-limits’, one of the ‘Unloved Heritage’ groups, whilst halfway through my second year studying Fine Art at Aberystwyth University. A community event was being held by them at Aberystwyth Arts’ Centre and I got involved a few months later, I have been a member of the youth panel ever since. My involvement has benefited me hugely and even influenced my degree work, helping me to develop professionally and personally. Not to mention providing some amazing opportunities, such as taking part in an exhibition at St Fagan’s during the ‘Youth Voice’ conference and meeting leading people in Welsh Heritage.
I love History
I have been able to follow many childhood dreams, such as visiting a real-life archaeological dig, something I always wanted to do, being brought up watching Tony Robinson’s ‘Time Team’, the project has truly re-ignited my love for history. My experiences on the ‘Unloved Heritage’ project, and being able to meet so many like minded people with a real passion and care for the past, has led me to return to my early ambitions of trying to pursue a career in heritage.
Investing in young people
Investing in young people lays the foundations for the heritage industry of the future. New waves of projects such as Unloved Heritage are now engaging the next generation of historians, conservators, museum curators, archivists and archaeologists. This engagement is absolutely essential for safeguarding the future of the heritage industry. Unloved was designed to engage, enthuse and inspire young people throughout Wales to get involved with their local heritage. I would argue, however, that it has done so much more.
What makes the Unloved project truly unique is that it is so much more than the curatorial work done by the groups involved. We have not been simply re-boxing a museum handling collection, as I did on one occasion when I was a teenage museum volunteer, young people between the ages of 11-25 are taking the lead on big projects, looking into the ‘unloved’ history of their communities, working alongside industry experts from Cadw, their partners at The Royal Commission, the Archaeological Trusts, other heritage organisations and local museums. Most importantly, we have been able to dictate the direction of the projects.
One of the key distinctions between projects like this and more historic attitudes in cultural institutions towards young people is how real it is, to paraphrase what I learnt from one of the group leaders, when talking about her experience of running workshops for far younger children, she commented that it is important to buy the best materials within the budget, children won’t be inspired by being left with some old felt tips and printer paper. It’s very much the same with teenagers and young adults— people do not want to be patronised or bored, they want to be involved and to feel respected and valued.
Legacy for Wales
Many of the projects in themselves are already providing a legacy for Wales, with more detailed records uploaded to sites such as Coflein and People’s Collection Wales. In some cases, previously unrecorded sites are now being recorded by young people, such as a Welsh upland farm and mining ruins, which we were lucky enough to look at in Ceredigion and for which we were highly commended at the 2018 Heritage Angel Awards Wales in the ‘Best Contribution to a Heritage Project by Young People’ category.
Engage with Heritage
Another key area of development has been the new ways in which heritage is being looked at and curated, with one group in Blaenrhondda using Minecraft, a gaming software, to recreate lost buildings from their community and allowing people to engage with heritage in a non-traditional setting. Another group in South Wales are recording the heritage of skateboarding, looking at the landscape of the past and present, then asking “what will the urban skateboard landscape of the future look like?”. New methods such as this have worked alongside learning about traditional processes and professional practice when working with historic artefacts, documents and locations.
It’s hard to see the downside of the projects, whether they are taking a fresh look at forgotten areas of Wales’ rich industrial history, bringing heritage into the gaming world, or looking at the History of Swansea though the eyes of urban skateboarders. Unloved Heritage is a truly incredible concept and has set a new precedent for Wales’ cultural sector—it is good example to show organisations across the UK about the importance of youth-led engagement. I hope it keeps going for years to come. My only regret is not getting involved sooner with the Ceredigion Heritage Youth Panel, I am very jealous of some of the younger panel members and only wish when I was at school in South London such a project existed. It has been a great experience and I have built up some amazing friendships and met some truly inspiring people, whether they be heritage professionals or fellow youth panel members.
By Chris Corish (Ceredigion Heritage Youth Panel)