Pete Insole for Know Your Place project, Bristol

Finalist for the Best Heritage Research, Interpretation or Recording award at the Historic England Angel Awards 2018.

There are always new stories to add, and the Know Your Place project facilitates just that. The interactive digital mapping resource lets members of the public not only explore their heritage but also contribute to it, building new layers of history in counties across South West England. Through engaging members of the public in the research and recording of local heritage, Know Your Place is uncovering and sharing history that would otherwise remain hidden.

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Hidden history

The brainchild of Bristol City Council’s Principal Historic Environment Officer, Pete insole, Know Your Place began in the council’s planning office in 2011. Pete Insole says he became enthused about the idea after seeing other examples of digital mapping sites. But he could not have anticipated how quickly the project would uncover new information about the area.

“Within the first few weeks, we received a brilliant photograph of two 18th century lime kilns that had not known existed. The kilns were behind a private wall and the owner of the land had sent in the photograph. No other record existed of the kilns, which were near a lime quarry,” says Pete Insole. “That got us excited about the potential of the project.”

Pete Insole is clearly passionate about spreading the word about Bristol’s heritage and celebrating it, but he is equally as enthusiastic about engaging the public in the recording of that heritage. “We are giving the public an active role in managing our heritage, adding more layers to what we already know,” he says.

Know Your Place encourages people to identify what they consider to be important heritage features in their own community. A dedicated space on the website allows visitors to send in contributions and all these are moderated and validated before being published on the site. The process of identifying these features is the first step towards getting more recognition for them and ensuring their protection, says Pete Insole.

Engaging with local communities

The Bristol page now includes more than 2,000 community contributions, which have been added to the city’s historic records and are now taken into account for political and planning decisions. The city’s local list of 500 buildings has been formed predominantly by buildings on the Know Your Place site, which were highlighted by members of the public.

The project also encourages communities to contribute to maps and archives on more specific histories. For example, for a Know Your Place spin-off, a digital map allows users to explores sites, hear stories and read about places and events significant to the LGBT+ community.

One of the project’s initial aims was to digitise and geo-reference historical maps and the site gives visitors unprecedented access to maps, collections and a wide range of historic data. One hundred volunteers have so far been trained to keep the site updated.

“The idea is to present historical information to the public in a way that lets them do some work,” says Pete Insole. The project has galvanised wider interest in local heritage, with a Know Your Place exhibition touring a dozen venues, sharing resources like education packs for schools and holding talks and walking tours.

At events co-designed with local residents, people have brought along their stories, photographs and historical artefacts. All of these have been photographed or recorded and uploaded on to the Know Your Place website, forming part of an ever-growing resource about Bristol’s heritage.

Why this category?

Know Your Place West of England ran from June 2015 to July 2017 to expand knowledge from Bristol to the six surrounding counties of Bath & Northeast Somerset, Gloucestershire, North Somerset, Somerset, South Gloucestershire and Wiltshire, with partners in each county committed to gathering and sharing more information on their area.

Other authorities, including London, have expressed an interest in putting their areas on the map in the same way. Know Your Place continues to bring new archive, library, museum and other material to new audiences in an easily accessible way, adding depth to and detail to existing historical records.

Crucially, the project has democratised the process of recording and sharing heritage. In acknowledging the need for local communities to have their stories heard and recorded publicly, Know Your Place is enriching the public’s experience of their history by providing a tool to peel away layers of the local area and to contribute stories to the archive.

As it provides a fresh response to the question of who manages our heritage, the scope of Know Your Place is endless. “We will never run out of stories,” says Pete Insole.

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