Within the Walls: Heritage Values and the Historic City

A Collaborative PhD project in the Historic City of York, UK

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Attending the OUR PLACE SEMINAR by LOCALITY: the challenges of local community-led projects

Written by Katrina Foxton (@kfoxton9) & edited by Imelda Havers from TIM in York (@timinyork)

To date, my PhD research has led me to be involved with the Red Tower Project in collaboration with TIM (The Incredible Movement) in York. I have been participating with a tight-knit team for 8 months, raising the profile of this historic building, so it can be used as a local community space in York.


Because the RT project has it’s own specific challenges, talking to other people in similar positions can be really helpful. So when Imelda (the project leader) proposed the workshop with Locality on the 29th July, it sounded like a really good way to get some valuable insight and to see government-led initiatives that lie parallel to my research interests.

Fig. 1 Short video about Locality

Imelda and I agree to split the day (both of us being busy bees). She went to the first half which focused on unlocking capacity in local communities. The event was attended by around 30 people from across North of England  who work on “Our Place” funded projects. The Our Place programme is a government initiative focusing on engagement and participation, and trying to do things differently. Imelda thinks that this potentially fits the TIM approach: it’s bottom up & locally based. It is also collaborative. More details on Our Place projects can be found here: Our-Place-guide-to-Co-design-FINAL

The Our Place projects are looking at how to transform the delivery of local services through mapping and maximising local assets. This means both through physical assets (like buildings, funding) and social resources (people and their skills, whoever they may be). As a result, the importance of community ‘hubs’ are being recognised, which help people to share their experiences and gather information within their locality. The development and management of such ‘hubs’ (through establishing demand, funding, staffing, maintenance etc) came up in discussion a lot. There was a comment from one Development Trustee who runs a community café. They said they absolutely need paid staff, at least one member, or the enterprise will not work. This is certainly one of many practicalities that the Red Tower will have to consider for the future.

In the management of community ‘hubs’ it was recommended that one has to ask for help from the local community at an early stage in the development of the project. How to do this is not necessarily straight forward. Essentially you have to think of different ways to bring people together through different events, e.g. dog ‘micro-chipping’, fire engine displays, ice cream van selling cheap ice-cream. These may be random and require creative thinking but will appeal to a broader range of people and potentially those harder to reach. A last point to take away from the first session was that using round table discussions proves a good way of developing new ideas and approaches.

After lunch (very tasty thanks!) the session I attended was focused on “Partnership Building”. Whilst partnerships can share a common vision, meetings can reveal different priorities (and may not lead to a stint at the pub afterwards!) Essential also is the idea that meetings are not a panacea for progress. Meetings with fixed agendas are too stringent and may not allow those who have useful skills to speak up—partnerships should be about discovering what different jobs people can take on, and then how they can get on and do them. I see this happening a lot at the Red Tower project. The team knows who we can go to if we need a hand, and relies on individuals stepping up to tasks.

The discussion then turned to complex and sometime tricky relationships between institutional and community based groups.

The main topic was how partnerships between community organisations and councils can go awry, due to issues of ‘awkwardness’ not being addressed. This can happen, for example, when one group feels that decisions—such as where the meeting takes place—are being either dominated or shirked by the other. The question put to us by the Locality speakers was: “can these issues be addressed if voiced and discussed?” The issue pervaded within the group, especially with regards to the lack of enthusiasm on the part of council workers for emerging group projects. Interestingly, one lady (who I learned had worked for a council) advised others that one has to pitch the value and dynamics of their project—learn to sell it essentially—to those in the council who have the resources or contacts necessary to help it move forward. Supporting your ‘pitch’ with statistics, e.g. how many people you can connect with, is another way of showing how you can support their priorities. More relevant in my opinion, was the idea of choosing the right people to speak to as a useful way of ‘getting in’. This doesn’t necessarily mean talking to those who are in right role/position but those who have contacts and empathy instead (going-via-the-back-door so to speak!) The conversation surrounding this highlighted many different approaches and experiences.

As part of the last exercise of the day, we were asked to create a “rich picture” (an illustrative doodle of our assets, concerns and aspirations) for our project. This was fun, a good way explaining projects and a conversation starter between the groups. I’m not sure how useful the Red Tower would find it in other situations and in what context we’d need to use it, but it may be useful in the future. It is often used in soft systems research methodologies.

To conclude with my thoughts, the most interesting take-away point for me was to realise just how many projects are out there aspiring to engage with, support and empower local communities (and sharing experiences and challenges is highly valuable). Bringing this back to the heritage management, I believe old or even ancient buildings can play a part within this “locality” driven environment. At the Red Tower, I am continuing to explore this dynamic.


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Finding our Feet: The Co-production of Research

In February, Victoria and Katrina participated in an engaged discussion at the University of Huddersfield with other PhD students and talked about the challenges of working with others in PhD research which focuses on history or heritage. Co-production (roughly) is a model which researchers use as a method of sharing power with others, creating collaborative aims, co-generating data and analysis: an example very close to home is the York: Living with History project.

However, whilst this model can empower and transform both researchers and non-researchers, there are also many difficulties. The fruits of the group discussion can be found at Professor Paul Ward’s website.

Please click the Thesis Feet to be forwarded onto the page:

Thesis Feet

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Thanks-you’s and afterthoughts

Three weeks ago, we put on 9 events in one week as part of the Being Human Festival at Kings Manor. These included 4 public lectures, an exhibition in the Refectory, 2 focus groups with York Minster, a link-up with colleagues at the University of Western Australia and finally, a hands-on event in which we played with the past and our conceptions of it. For myself and the team it was a week of conversations, unexpected surprises, and trying desperately not to forget things! And I believe it was a learning experience for everyone.

Three of the banners from our pop-up exhibition at King's Manor Refectory.

Three of the banners from our pop-up exhibition at King’s Manor Refectory. Sorry the photo is so dark – medieval building!

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Talking to volunteers, stonemasons, worshipers, the clergy and practitioners at the Minster about their values and World Heritage

Each of the seminars were full of energy and curiosity, and generated questions and lively discussion (and you can watch Graham Fairclough’s livestreamed video here). Those who I spoke with afterwards expressed avid interest in the subjects presented, and to some, they came as brand new concepts–such as an archaeology of the homeless community, or using Facebook to springboard heritage social action. Others came back to us with queries about how research techniques can and should be used in the heritage field, i.e. whether it should be qualitative or quantitative?

The Minster event, which we’d envisaged as a discussion group between a broad range of participants in the life of York Minster – from volunteers to guides to clergy  to craftspeople to education professionals and collections managers – revealed the range of different interactions with this architectural landmark.  It is conceived as a ‘living’ place of worship, a ‘centre of excellence’ for liturgical practice and also for craft skills, a space of tranquility and but also of some contention, particularly between the desire to reach out to visitors, the commercial imperatives of maintaining the building and the core function of the Minster as a place of worship. Very different communities of interest, such as clergy and stonemasons, discussed commonalities around the practice of their work as part of the living tradition of the place, to some the extent the ‘performance’ of a living heritage.

Our talk with the ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions (located at the University of Western Australia) was an intriguingly complex video-discussion on the subject of emotions in history. And while we may have raised more questions than we found answers, being able to simply see the differences in opinion across the academic fields has left a potential opportunity for further discussion. Another thing I’d like to note, is that one of the divisions that kept coming up during the week is how we choose to see heritage: either from a present-centered perspective or with a past-centered emphasis. This certainly came up during this discussion and is something I’d like to return to.

The Play with the Past event was absolutely the best way to end the week, bringing us to how we communicate our heritage values, through art or digital communication. It was also just a very friendly atmosphere with students, university staff and the members of the public dropping in to mingle, chat and share ideas. I was stationed at the graffiti section and found myself in deep conversations with several people during the two hours.

The York Tactile Mapping Project, set up and ready to go

claire graffitting

Discussing art, community and heritage

Scribbling onto models and the make-shift map of York

IMG_20141209_181033693 IMG_20141209_181055628 IMG_20141209_181112775IMG_20141209_180648796

The graffiti buildings seemed to engage some people, but not all, and the initial conception of graffiti scultures went wonderfully out the window as people started drawing and writing on the paper placed on the table instead, turning it into a visual and textual memory map of York.  Some wrote questions, like ‘How long do you have to live in York to really belong here?’, others drew their Primary School or wrote the name of significant place from the recent Hungate dig to the Willow nightclub on Coney Street.  Others told us their stories – ‘Two people I know saw the daffodils at Clifford’s Tower and decided to live here.’ – or shared their less hopeful impressions of the city: ‘York is the graveyard of ambition.’ It was definitely good fun, a great conversation starter, and I hope to use it again in the future. From my perspective I certainly going to think about how I’ve spoken to people during the week, and see if this can be useful to other situations.

Our paper mache Clifford's Tower, surrounded by mapping graffiti.

Our paper mache Clifford’s Tower, surrounded by mapping graffiti.

Lastly, we’d like to say thank you to those who have helped bring our events together, so; the Being Human Festival organisers; our speakers Richard and Lianne Brigham of York Past and Present Facebook group, Geoff Cubitt, Graham Fairclough, Helen Graham and John Schofield; the participants from the Minster community who volunteered their time and enthusiasm; Grace Moore, Jane Davidson and Susan Broomhill from the ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions in Australia; our colleagues Colleen Morgan and Leonie Weiser who joined us in the conference call; all those not mentioned so far who provided content for the banners so, Mary Garrison (Fishergate, Fulford and Heslington Local History Society), Sara Perry (the Heritage Jam), The York Atlas Project, Sarah Tester (YorkGateway to History Project); Tom the catering manager (who let us put them up in the cafe); Andy the porter (for putting up with us, and not getting annoyed when we broke the TV); and lastly but certainly not least, all those who attended the events!

We thank you all, and wish you all a very Merry Christmas!

Kat, Edward and Victoria

The Within the Walls team.

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Preparing for the Open Afternoon-“Play with the Past” (or how to make Cliffords Tower…)

Over the last weekend, this is what Katrina got up to:

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Lots of eggs boxes in the sink, in order to be made sodden and mushed up

Mulshed eggs boxes on top a wash basin

Mushed-up eggs boxes on top a wash basin

The mound is complete! Now for some architecture...

The mound is complete! Now for some architecture…

Kat's final rendering of Clifford's Tower (aka the Mince Pie!)

A half-finished Cliffords Tower (with authentic structural issues…)

Even had time to make a quick York Art Gallery (with Neo-Classical Facade). Although it is a mystery what it actually looks like currently!

Even had time to make the York Art Gallery. It is a mystery what it actually looks like currently, as it undergoing redevelopments. A statue of W.Etty is currently not included (yet!)

On Sat 22nd November, these buildings will be brought to Kings Manor and turned into ‘graffiti sculptures’ as part of the Being Human Festival. Visitors will be able to scribble their memories, thoughts, or impressions all over Cliffords Tower, the Art Gallery, the Shambles, and Minster! The point of this is to consider how we have different opinions about the city’s heritage. This links to the idea that human’s collective thoughts could impact how a city looks over time. So what will you write?

We’re also going to have a Pinterest Board. This will be used to create a community heritage exhibition, again dedicated to York. Pinterest is a digi-visual platform, and with this you can ‘pin’ places of importance to your memories. We’re going to start some already, so keep an eye out for our Pinterest site here next week.

Finally, the York Tactile Mapping Project will be joining us on the day. This project is dedicated to developing the:

“awareness of the needs of blind and partially sighted members of the community in York and the barriers to their engagement with the historic environment in order to widen participation”

The project is led by the York branch of the Young Archaeologists’ Club in partnership with the Council for British Archaeology and the Department of Archaeology at the University of York. They are kindly bringing along their tactile maps of different historic periods (including Roman and Early Medieval), which you can experience as a visually impaired person (VIP) with the use of specially prepared glasses. This means experiencing history through your fingertips!

York Tactile Maps: EDIT

A Tactile Map of York!

The Tactile Mapping Leaders at the recent YorNight

The Tactile Mapping Leaders at the recent YorNight

Ed, Victoria and Kat will be around during the event to discuss what ideas come to mind whilst interacting with these activities. This grand finale–as part of the Being Human Festival–will all be happening on Saturday 22nd November, at Kings Manor (Huntingdon Room 2pm-4pm). The event is free, refreshments will be available and all are welcome, of all ages too.

Please contact wtwyork@gmail.com for more information.

Looking forward to seeing you soon!

The Within the Walls team

(aka Kat, Ed and Victoria)

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Being Human about Heritage and History

What seems like ages ago, Dr Sarah Rees Jones (Dept. of History, IPUP, and Victoria Hoyle’s supervisor) approached the team with the idea of putting in an application to the Being Human Festival, the first national celebration of the Humanities, taking place in November. After a creative meet up and exchange of emails, we succeeded in our efforts and—much to our delight—were awarded funding for our two-day workshop (more details to follow).

On Wednesday 14th May I went to the Being Human reception to meet others involved in projects taking place at universities up and down the UK this autumn. Needless to say I was curious about other projects and simply wasn’t sure what to expect. What even is a ‘Being Human Festival’ in the large scheme of things? Some may even ask “what’s the point”?

The Being Human Festival is led by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the British Academy, held at the School of Advanced Studies, and is simply about asking “What does it mean to be human?” specifically with regards to the social sciences and ‘humanities’—that is music, art, history, literature, psychology, sociology, geography, philosophy, languages and so on. But more than this, it is about exploring what it means to be human now—in 2014—within this social environment of digital demands and technologically collapsed time. Living within an electronic ‘Brave New World’, the Being Human Festival aims to demonstrate to the public how the Humanities can help “question, interpret and explain the human predicament”; a vital task to achieve within this digital era.

Ok, so now I have the programme of the Being Human festival, I gather that there are an array of projects exploring humour, gender, voice, vision, sound, humans and the landscape or urbanscapes, advertising, politics, youth, music, rebellion, theatre and many others. All appear to involve working with a variety of people (schools, local residents, young people, old people, artists, specialists and institutions). Most are evoking creative activities such as film, art, poetry, music, the Internet—there are even projects exploring research through 3D laser-scanning! So you can really get a feel of festivity on the whole.

The title of our project is “Within the Walls: Heritage, Public History and the Historic City”. Just to give you a bit of a hint, Dr Sarah Rees Jones says this:

“we are looking forward to engaging the public through new activities both online and offline that address the value of York’s past for communities in the present and the future. There will be an exhibition of recent research conducted locally to stimulate the imagination but we are really interested in public contributions and ideas. At the end of the week we plan to link up with similar projects at the University of Western Australia to consider the values associated with heritage and history among migrant and mobile populations both locally and internationally”.

We’re looking forward to being collaboratively creative with others and essentially, we aim to be human about history and heritage. 

Check out @BeingHumanFest on twitter! Image

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What is a ‘CDA’?

The Within the Walls project team are supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) through CDAs or Collaborative Doctoral Awards.   CDAs bring Universities and non-academic organisations together to work on research that will have impact and long-term benefits on both sides.   Our project is a partnership between the University of York and City of York Council (CYC).

This is quite a new model for postgraduate research, both for Universities and for PhD students, and I keep being asked how it works in reality. In this post I’m going to give a little background to the scheme and also talk a bit about my experience so far.

In practical terms having a CDA means that Ed, Katrina and I each have a non-academic supervisor in addition to our academic one: for me on the archives strand this is Richard Taylor, the City Archivist, and for Ed and Katrina it is John Oxley, the City Archaeologist. As part of our research we’ll also undertake work based placements and projects with CYC, benefit from lots of in-house practical knowledge and be plugged in to a wider network of people who work in heritage in York.  In return CYC gives a small additional bursary to each of us on top of our grant to support our work-based research.

The AHRC launched the CDA funding scheme in 2005 (you can get an overview of the varied projects funded so far on their website), with the primary aim of encouraging Universities to collaborate and develop partnerships outside of academia.

The studentships also encourage and establish links that can have long-term benefits for both collaborating partners, providing access to resources and materials, knowledge and expertise that may not otherwise have been available and also provide social, cultural and economic benefits to wider society.

The University of York received its first awards in 2006 for projects in partnership with Harewood House and Castle Howard on country houses. Since then the Departments of History, Archaeology, Music, History of Art and Archaeology have had CDAs every year, in partnership with a long list of organisations, some local and some national.

English Heritage, the Yorkshire Film Archive, The Natural History Museum, The National Railway Museum, York Archaeological Trust, the Yorkshire Museum, the National Maritime Museum, Tate Britain, Glasgow Museums, Harrogate Borough Council, The British Museum and the National Gallery.

The topics have been diverse too, from ‘The Mesolithic and the Planning Process’ to ‘Shifting Perspectives on German Renaissance Art’ to ‘Picturing the railway passenger as customer in Britain: the Great Western Railway, 1903-1939’.


The CDA approach really works well for me.  I had always intended to return to University to do a PhD but over the years had also become really invested in my chosen career as an archivist.  Since 2010 I have worked for CYC as an archivist (and still do, two days a week) and  I was keen that any research I did should have potential impact for my profession and relate directly to the reality of archives work.  The CDA model gives me the best of both worlds: it allows me to undertake a vigorous academic study while at the same time relating it constantly back to the real-world organisation that I work for.

For example, I want to collaborate with community groups in York to identify what they value about archives, and understand how recognised heritage organisations can work with these groups to engage more people with their archival heritage.   The contact I have with CYC – as a researcher and a member of staff – means that I have access to work happening in real-time and can ‘get up close’, actually participating in things.  I will be delivering some elements of the Archives’ Heritage Lottery funded Gateway to History programme as my work-based project, the experience of which in turn will form a core element of my research. The task of building essential relationships with partners and accessing networks in the city has already been done for me, at the project development and bidding stage.

I don’t think CDAs would work for all researchers or for all research projects.  I suppose you could argue that collaboration complicates the research process because, depending upon on how active they are in the partnership, the non-academic organisation acts as another draw on precious time and already stretched mental resources.  While CDA students are free to follow their research wherever it takes them, none of the parties are disinterested and you have to serve two ‘masters’ coming from quite different perspectives.   In my case both my academic and non-academic supervisors have quite a clear sense of what they hope to achieve as a result of the research project, and are well aligned, but that won’t always be the case.  And the priorities and approaches of all organisations shift and change over time, which can impact on a 5 year part time PhD like mine.  Plus I imagine that work based projects can be a distraction if they’re not integrated fully into the research from the start.

All of that is outweighed for me though by the benefits, especially the potential CDAs offer for embedding research in new contexts and for demystifying and justifying academic work.  It’s a way of doing research ‘in the world’, right from the beginning.