Ask Five: Lichfield Lore interviews Distinctly Black Country

November 19th, 2013 by Jerome Turner in Ask Five | no comments

dbc photo: Matthew WhitehouseIn the next blog of our series, Lichfield Lore interviews Distinctly Black Country, ‘a network for understanding yesterday’s landscape today’.

1. Why was the Distinctly Black Country network set up?

A number of reasons. An important one was that we felt that the area should be seen as a single historic landscape instead of a rather fragmented heritage. The Black Country is a large urban area (population ~1 million) with a common history– but it has no single local authority as ‘heritage champion’, four planning bodies, substantial material held in several different archives, more than a dozen museums, and scores of local history societies. Organisations like the Black Country Society have done great work to integrate our understanding but we wanted to add our weight to the call to get it appreciated.

2. How important is the role of social media play in helping people to discover the history around them?

It’s increasingly important.  You only have to look at people who turn out to local history societies for example (and we are glad that they do) to know that they are generally a retired group. Social media has helped us reach a younger, generally working-age audience who perhaps don’t have as much time to get involved otherwise.

3. Why do you think there has been an increased interest in the history of ‘ordinary’ people and places in recent years?

If there has been, we are pleased.  If you were to judge history only by the covers of the BBC History Magazine for example (kings, queens, political leaders etc.) you might still think that ‘ordinary’ people don’t have a role.  That said, we are glad to say that our original funders, English Heritage, were always keen to support a project which focussed on ‘street corner’ history so to speak.  ‘Every place tells a story’ is a useful motto for us – and judging by the appeal of our ‘My Postcode History’ project (still our most successful initiative) it is one which is appreciated and understood.

4. How can exploring the past benefit the communities of today and tomorrow?

The Black Country has a illustrious past and played a vital part in the global industrial revolution. However not everyone has an understanding of what the implications of this are for the present day.  In many ways we are seen just as a kind of generic post-industrial suburban outpost of Birmingham. Exploring and understanding the past is about reclaiming a unique identity for the area: giving us a better sense of who we are and why.

5. Why do you think some places are more dynamic and innovative than others in exploring their history and heritage?

The answer to this might involve several factors. In our case, the Black Country has suffered from the very late (official) recognition that industrial heritage and the stories associated with it have an importance to match other types of historic structures. So for a long time some people may have thought that there wasn’t much to explore. Nevertheless, many keen local amateur historians have beavered away for years in the area… and so lots of work has been done… we just need to keep trying to present it to new, younger audiences in an interesting way.

Next up, dbc choose Suzanne Carter, ‘who works as a freelance Community Engagement Consultant, Practitioner and Project Manager.  Suzanne specialises in engaging people with heritage and community consultation’.  And here are the questions:

1. What does your role as a Community Engagement Consultant involve?
2. How important is it to include local people in the decision-making and delivery of heritage projects through community participation?
3. Is social media valuable to heritage projects in connecting with the local community?
4. dbc’s focus is on the understanding of the Black Country’s historic landscape so it’s always great to hear about other projects that have taken place in the region, what was the Brierley Hillness project all about?
5. Creativity was key to this project, what methods were employed to engage with the local community to understand and explore their views of Brierley Hill?

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