Engaging young people in heritage from home

Arty photo of person with a camera
Experimental photography at Llannon Cottage, Ceredigion
One Welsh project shares how they are continuing to involve young people in heritage, even under lockdown.
Christopher Catling
Christopher Catling

I often hear it said that it is difficult to get young people involved in heritage.

I do not believe this to be true, and we have had no difficulty in attracting young people to be part of the Royal Commission’s youth engagement project, Unloved Heritage?.

This has been running for three years now. It is one of several projects under the Unloved Heritage? banner funded by The National Lottery Heritage Fund.

"I believe the secret to engaging young people in heritage is to ask them what they value and how they would like to record it for posterity." 

Fundamental to the project is abandoning preconceptions about "heritage". Broadly defined – heritage means the things from the past and present that you value enough to want to hand on to future generations. That means everyone has a slightly different definition.

 

Asking young people what they value

I believe the secret to engaging young people in heritage is to ask them what they value and how they would like to record it for posterity.

Our group have given themselves a name – the CHYPs (Ceredigion Heritage Youth Panel). They are, as you might expect, very adept at social media, blogging, website design and photography.

They call their project Ceredigion Off-Limits because they are fascinated by unconventional and overlooked aspects of heritage. They were just as interested in the cars dumped at the entrance to an abandoned lead mine as by the industrial archaeology inside.

Upside-down smashed car
Cwmystwyth mineshaft with dumped car

A year ago, I persuaded the National Library to give the CHYPs access to a mysterious cavern that lies beside the steep path up to the library from the main road east out of Aberystwyth.

Despite the graffiti just inside the entrance warning that ‘Death waits around the corner’, we used our archaeological skills to find evidence of its past as an archive for the British Library’s most precious manuscripts during the Second World War.

Capturing life during the pandemic

While the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis prevents us doing fieldwork with the CHYPs, they are very keen to continue with their work. We are hoping that we can carry on with the programme in an amended form – for example the CHYPs are creating a new blog to capture life during the pandemic – calling it Treftadaeth Ansicr/Uncertain Heritage.

Young person taking photo of another person in uniform
A previous event for young people exploring modern and medieval history through photography

 

They are continuing to prepare a postponed exhibition called The Story Of a House on a Hill that will go ahead at Aberystwyth Arts Centre. They are also carrying out research work on Aberystwyth’s leisure and entertainment sites, to create a town heritage trail.

"Perhaps they would like to keep a diary of the times we are living through – just as Samuel Pepys did during the Great Fire of London."

So, let’s hear no more talk of young people not being interested in heritage. And if you have young people at home looking for ideas to stave off cabin fever, it would be well worth having a conversation about what they value and want to pass on.

Perhaps you could encourage them to undertake a project or do research using the online resources of the Royal Commission and the People’s Collection Wales.

Perhaps they too would like to keep a diary of the times we are living through – just as Samuel Pepys did during the Great Fire of London.

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