Best Community Action Project
The following four projects have been shortlisted for the best community action project in the 2016 Historic England Angel Awards.
To find out more about the projects, please read the excerpts from their submissions below.
The aim of the project
The aim of the project was to create high quality visitor facilities and generate additional income to maintain this outstanding community asset on past its 150th year.
The most obvious outcome
The most obvious outcome is the stunning Visitor Centre building. It is conceived as a partly buried structure - with its lowest level dug down into the earth and rock of the pier approach ramp. In the refurbished Toll House, just alongside the pier entrance, an outstanding interactive interpretation display covers three main themes: the Pier, Clevedon Town and the Severn Estuary.
The action was to design, fund and deliver the new Visitor Centre. Although appropriate professionals contributed throughout, the Trust provided the forethought, energy and perseverance to deliver the scheme. This involved initial planning, selection of professional advisers, applying for funding, grants and a loan, organising a Community Share offer, agreeing the design, procuring a contractor and monitoring the construction process.
The project team
We sought as part of the project to strengthen our pier management team and, as a direct requirement of our Activity Plan, set out to employ a Heritage and Outreach Officer and a Community Engagement Officer.
However, at a broader level the project had to deliver a new future for the pier: one in which the Trust and pier management team are able to generate sufficient revenue to ensure the long term sustainability of the pier. Iron structures standing in salt water require huge amounts of maintenance, and the Trust exists to ensure that our funding position allows us to keep maintaining this beautiful structure.
How it all began
The first idea for the Visitor Centre came in 2010. As a plan emerged, we engaged a professional team to produce designs and negotiated with English Heritage to build a modern building with the curtilage of a Grade 1 listed structure, for which we received a full endorsement before we applied for Planning and Listed Building Consents. Whilst plans were developing, we applied for numerous grants between 2011 and 2013. We had sufficient funding in place to make a start on site in 2014 and construction works reached completion in 2016.
How the project was funded
Many sources of funding have been used for the Visitor Centre project. Securing funding has been difficult and required immense efforts from several of the Trustees (working alongside a heritage consultant for some of the time) in producing applications and submissions.
In parallel with the construction, the Trust decided to embark upon a Community Share Offer which required that it should convert to a Community Benefit Society. The Share Offer ran between August 2015 and January 2016 and raised over £250,000 from over 1,100 local members plus an investment of £80,000 from the Architectural Heritage Fund.
The aims of the project
The aims of the project were twofold: good archaeology, and to inspire those participants who were part of the work. The latter included providing a new insight into the training areas over which the men and women of Operation Nightingale had trained over to all that took part.
We have now examined a series of archaeological sites - with the contributions of Op Nightingale personnel enabling both Barrow Clump and Netheravon Barrows to be removed from the 'Heritage At Risk' list. For the former, the military participants are currently writing a chapter on their participation for the monograph (including finding the first Visigoth brooch from a grave in Britain). Three of the soldiers have now gone on to work as professional archaeologists, one has achieved a First Class honours degree in archaeology from Exeter University, and many have declared a lifelong love of archaeology as a result.
Who is the community
The 'community' for this project is comprised of a mixture of local volunteers, professional archaeologists and, for the most part, wounded, injured and sick service personnel. Many of the latter grouping have not had huge access to heritage in the past, often joining the military straight from school. And yet, they train over some of the richest archaeological landscapes and frequently have a passion for heritage. This project has no particular timescale; the commitment is open-ended as the requirement is also likely to be so.
The project has required archaeological sites to be excavated as they are on the point of rapid decline and other methods of conserving them have failed. By having the military participants we have been able to achieve this task more quickly, with smaller spending of tax-payers money and also to achieve the important result of improving the well-being of those that have fought for the country.
The project accessed some monies from military charities to enable such important components as fresh rations to be procured. Funding was also provided by the Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO) to ensure suitable professional archaeological contractors were employed both to supervise works and also to teach participants. The team has liaised with Historic England, the Ministry of Justice, Natural England, and the Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre of the MoD to ensure that all statutory requirements were fulfilled too.
The works have been widely reported in local and national newspapers, magazines and journals and a series of outreach lectures have also been undertaken. The team has now set up their own Facebook group (closed-membership) to share support, tales of excavations, and information on future projects and has developed a huge pride in their achievements. One Rifleman who was told at school he was 'not bright enough to do archaeology' now works as a professional archaeologist, and has his name (as the finder of a 6th Century Saxon drinking bucket at Barrow Clump) opposite the Sutton Hoo helmet in the British Museum. A far cry from his days in a Forward Operating Base in Iraq.
Richard Jefferies Museum Trust for the project Campaign to save the museum from sale by local council
The aims of the project
The aims of the project: to rescue the site so that it would be available to future generations and not lost through financial need or resource limitations of the Local Authority; to reach a point of development where we could sign a lease with the Local Authority, and take charge of the site, thus taking its future into the hands of the community; to achieve a standard of museum care that would warrant ACE Accreditation, developing a strong and sustainable business plan, and a firm focus on creating a community asset that builds on and promotes the often unknown, but rich, heritage of Swindon.
The Trust has rescued the museum and its grounds from the threat of closure and possible sale. This month (July 2016), we finally get our lease from the Council for the community to take full charge of the site.
We built up a group to create a charitable Trust; overhaul the site, transforming the gardens from a weed and bramble covered jungle into a beautiful oasis with children's nature trails, picnic areas and community vegetable plots; strip and clean the insides of the buildings; catalogue everything with recently purchased MODES system; secure solid loan agreements; design new interpretation; secure funding from HLF, ACE, and numerous smaller funding sources; open a small tearoom; create workshop spaces, an office and storage space; developing new events and courses; designing new signage and printed publicity material; increase visitor/volunteer numbers ten-fold; establish strong links with other museums and, crucially, with other local groups, including schools, community centres, health centres, homes for the elderly and resident groups. laughed, cried, run around like mad things, and generally enjoyed ourselves...
Why we took action
Our small museum is a unique gem, brimming with history in both its fabric and in its collection of artefacts relating to Victorian writer Richard Jefferies. With that conviction, we could not sit by as it emerged, in 2009, that his beautiful old farmhouse and gardens were under threat of being sold off due to resource pressures on the guardians of the site, Swindon Borough Council.
Initially, discussions revolved around raising funds to buy the museum, but through negotiations with Council leaders this slowly changed into an idea of the community taking responsibility for the site instead. The ensuing seven years have seen discussions, negotiations, plans, paperwork and meetings. Small successes always came with delays, frustrations, complications and ever more hoops to jump through. Nevertheless, we have persevered, and have reached agreement on a lease enabling the Richard Jefferies Museum Trust to take over the management, funding, running and maintenance of the whole site.
Maintaining the museum
Taking ownership is one thing; maintaining it is another thing entirely. Eventually, we were allowed to move into the museum to develop ideas, and produced a mission statement: ‘To create/share a unique environment of discovery that will enrich peoples’ lives and inspire adults and children through the home, writing and thoughts of Richard Jefferies.’ As a community-run ‘cultural hub’ we attract ten times as many visitors, and engage with them at much deeper levels.
But the best thing about what we are doing is that we love it!
The aims of the project
The aims of the project were to rescue the building and find a long term sustainable use, to respond to local concerns about the anti-social behaviour around the former chapel and the wider cemetery. Involving young people to change their attitudes and engage them with the history of the site and the building was key to its future success.
Beautiful historic building saved for future generations to enjoy. New coloured glass windows – by a glass artist working with school pupils and college students. Education resources for schools. Continuation of heritage craft skills employed during the building contract. Work experience for college construction students. A new Friends group established to involve local people in caring for the cemetery. A cemetery maintenance plan produced as a first step to obtaining a Green Flag Award. Heritage interpretation panels installed around the cemetery. Two history books and two heritage tour leaflets created. Care of the historic buildings by new tenants and by West Midlands Historic Buildings Trust as landlord.
Best community action project
The Lye and Wollescote Cemetery Chapel, unused since 1993 was declared surplus to requirements in 2003. Local residents were distressed as the building became an eyesore and a magnet for anti-social behaviour. The number of call outs to the police from local residents and complaints to the local MP and Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council (MBC) increased. Dudley MBC made a successful application for listing, following advice from the West Midlands Historic Buildings Trust (WMHBT, a volunteer-led building preservation trust) and the chapel was listed Grade II in 2005
The Architectural Heritage Fund was an important source of funds for the early stage development work in 2005/6, supporting WMHBT to produce an options appraisal report and engage with the local community to address concerns. The AHF grant levered in additional funding from the Stourbridge Area Committee (a local community forum) of Dudley MBC. The consultation work carried out at this stage alerted local residents and historians Jean Weston and Marlene Price, who volunteered by organising guided tours of notable burials in the cemetery.
The project hit a major setback when a first application to the Heritage Lottery Fund was turned down due to insufficient funds. Though despondent and penniless, the local community urged WMHBT to keep going and they found a way to maintain momentum and raise morale by organising public open days and successfully applying for additional funds (from Big Lottery) to commission Jean Weston and Marlene Price to write a book on the history of the cemetery and chapels. Continuing support for the project development from the Architectural Heritage Fund with a Project Development Grant paid for a Project Organiser, who applied for funding from Locality to use the chapels project as a pilot scheme for developing a Community Asset Transfer strategy for the Borough.
In December 2012 a Heritage Lottery Fund development grant was awarded, providing more opportunities for direct engagement with the local community. Over 40 activities were developed through community consultation. In October 2013 a Heritage Lottery Fund second round Heritage Grant was awarded. The community asset transfer was enacted, with WMHBT taking on the freehold ownership as a custodian community organisation. A sympathetic conversion for a new sustainable use as a Registrar’s office and wedding venue satisfied a desire by local residents to have on-going access to the building and provides a link with the Friends group. The building has been renamed the Thomas Robinson Building and was officially opened in March 2016.
The establishment of a new Friends of Lye and Wollescote Cemetery group realised a key aspiration in the Activity Plan. This group enables local residents to continue to contribute towards the care of the cemetery into the future. WMHBT trustees agreed to move away from their usual “revolving-fund” way of working, to retain ownership, in response to a strong desire expressed in public consultations for the building to remain in community ownership and with a caring owner.
Recognising the spirit of community action that saved the building, a public competition was held for the first wedding at this new venue. Thanks to donations from local suppliers of wedding services, the first couple won a free wedding package worth over £6,000 and a tangible demonstration of the contribution the wider community has been inspired to make to this successful project. A building that had been an irritant and embarrassment has become a pride for the local area, thanks to the passion and perseverance of community action over a period of 13 years.
We are grateful this year to National Association of Decorative and Fine Arts Societies (NADFAS) for sponsoring this award.