Castleford Meeting 8th. October 2011

The West Yorkshire Community Heritage Forum met for the second time in Castleford’s Bridge Art Gallery on October 8th. This delegate came away thoroughly invigorated and encouraged with the state of community heritage in the sub region and volunteered to be your `citizen reporter’ for the highlights of the day.

The Duchess of Aberdeen, lamb chops (those two are connected!); the great great great nephew of Dick Turpin;  Liquorice garths;  a possible Civil War burial in Pontefract; clay pipes excavated by schoolchildren in their own gardens; Clarke Hall’s brilliant educational offer and the view of Goole from the water – these were some of the nuggets of delight in a packed day of inspiration and networking.

Delegates representing community heritage organisations from across West Yorkshire were welcomed by Alison Drake’s inspiring presentation on the work of the Castleford Heritage Trust. The Trust has been a major force in the regeneration of Castleford through heritage. From walks and trails to major events and the huge impact of the beautiful Renato Benedetti bridge, CHT has changed the face of its town – and has more to do yet.

Presentations that followed highlighted the fantastic wealth of community archaeology in the area. Pontefract is home not just to the famous liquorice but to a medieval Dominican Friary, the corner of whose Church has already been excavated, uncovering a Civil War grave along the way. Staffed by up to 20 volunteers a day and led by professional archaeologists, the Pontefract dig has the potential to add even more to our national knowledge of Blackfriars churches, with a planned community excavation of the entire church in summer 2012.

Volunteers play a strong role too at Wakefield’s Clarke Hall, an educational pioneer which won the Sandford Award in 2011 and has turned generations of schoolchildren on to history with its `hands on’ 3rd person interpretation. Facing an uncertain future due to local authority cuts, it benefits from the commitment of its volunteer Friends and attracted the warm support of the whole meeting.

Children at Gildersome Primary School clearly enjoyed their community archaeology project  – using real excavated artefacts as an inspiration, they carried out mini digs in back gardens and produced a fascinating range of finds for experts to identify. As well as adding to the professionals’ knowledge of Gildersome, the project has led the school to a Learning Outside the Classroom study and to connections with local sites and museums.

Goole hosts the Yorkshire wide Waterways Museum, a national model  of good practice for its use of working exhibits and its community connections. The Museum provides a huge range of placements for young people excluded from school and for offenders. It is a lynchpin of its community and combines this with a great experience for visitors to its lively and interesting galleries and boats.

Delegates from the floor highlighted the sterling work done in support of 3 parks in Wakefield, as represented by the Friends of Chap Parks, whose voluntary energy and input have led to the Parks receiving Grade 2 status.

Ilkley’s Manor House Museum also benefits from a very active supporters group which not only supports events and opening, but also creates walks and trails and has installed 18 Blue Plaques on buildings of interest. Wakefuield Walking Club has found that people become interested in an area’s heritage by going on a walk, and wants to harness this.

General discussion focussed on some shared issues:

  • How do voluntary groups relate to their local authorities especially in a time of cuts?
  • How do people network and find out `who’s out there’ both within and beyond their district?
  • What online tools should groups use – blogs, Twitter, Facebook?
  • If people support a specific building how do they approach possible Trust status?

Ahead of a superb guided tour of the new bridge, the Forum’s Chair/Convenor floated some ideas about how the group might work

  • An informal self organised body – no committees, minutes,etc
  • Each session to be organised by the host along lines designed to appeal to many people, although with a look at local issues
  • The aim is to share – good practice, knowledge, contacts – we might look at an online open sharing space, or, more likely , use open emails to share ideas.
  • We have a good model in our neighbours in Sheffield.

The next meeting takes the Forum to  Leeds and is likely to be in February or March – date to be confirmed.

Not to be missed!

Rosie Crook

Working Heritage consultant