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Petersfield Museum - Interpreting heritage through dance

What were the project aims?

Students from The Petersfield School tell the story of young people during the war

Image credit: Petersfield Museum

In the Centenary year of the start of the First World War, the ‘Gone but not Forgotten’ project aimed to help the local community better understand the impact the war had on the town of Petersfield and its people. Working in partnership with Dance Up Petersfield Museum produced an innovative and unusual approach to heritage through dance, in addition to the more conventional exhibitions on offer at the museum, which would attract people who are not in the habit of visiting the museum (younger people, people from further afar).

The project saw pupils from local schools work with museum staff, local researchers and professional dancers to discover and share local stories and to create an original dance performance for the wider community during a one day event which incorporated professional dance performances, period music and wartime poetry. This project was a first of its kind for Petersfield and the museum hoped to fuel young people’s curiosity, engage the community with the museum’s collections and local history and demonstrate the learning potential that the arts has when using the learning resources and objects in museums.

As Petersfield Museum has only a very small collection covering the First World War, we hoped the project, which encompassed an aspect of research into local history by several community groups, would help us to gain knowledge through this research and potential additions to the collection through donations and loans.

What was the impact of the project?

Students from Froxfield Primary during final dress rehearsal as agricultural workers

Image credit: Petersfield Museum

As a result of the project, local school children and the community have a better understanding of the history of Petersfield during the First World War. They learnt about the events, experiences and emotions that the people of the town lived through and how this still impacts us today.

The museum's volunteer researchers worked closely with the museum’s collections and were able to share their findings and knowledge with the children and young people who would be performing. This intergenerational work was extremely rewarding and allowed both the researchers and young people to relate more closely to their local heritage and learn new skills.

Museum staff gained further experience in the organisation of large-scale events and have built up sustainable partnerships with local groups and schools.

Moreover, the research results are now part of the museum’s records and have subsequently been used for a display about the First World War in the museum space.

This ambitious project allowed us to engage new audiences, including those who may not traditionally visit museums. The 4 hour event was watched by over 1,000 visitors.

What went well and what didn’t go well?

The audience watch Liss juniors perform

Image credit: Petersfield Museum

This project took more than 18 months to complete from the initial meeting with Dance Up to the final performance.

The project was managed by the museum's education officer, Amanda Harwood, and by Libby Battaglia, Programme Director at Dance Up. Libby manged the dance elements of the project and Amanda managed the community involvement and practical arrangements for the day. This wealth of combined skills ensured the project had all the knowledge and experience to make this event a success. Staff members and trustees of both organisations supported the project throughout and helped raise the considerable project funds.

Throughout the project the museum actively sought to engage staff, volunteers and supporters to help make the day a success, whether this be with research, making costumes, delivering publicity material or by simply spreading the word.  The relationships with local schools, community groups and businesses ensured, the museum had plenty of local support for the event, with many taking an active role.

A negative of the project is that Dance Up had hoped to use this event as a pilot scheme for future projects; however the company recently stopped trading due to lack of funding.

Here is some feedback from the event:

‘It was a fantastic afternoon and an absolute privilege to be involved. Thank you for all your hard work and for giving the children this amazing opportunity’ (Teacher from one of the schools that participated)

‘I want to thank you and congratulate you for organising such a fantastic event. It was indeed a huge success, and it felt like a perfect way to recognise the event’ (Audience member)

Top Tips

  • Ensure a partnership agreement is in place so that all partners understand their roles and responsibilities clearly
  • Make the most of the experience and knowledge of people around you. The museum felt extremely lucky to have had help from other organisations in the town who knew about things such as road closures, licencing and funding…Don’t be afraid to ask for help!

What are your plans for the future?

The research carried out by the volunteer groups is now an important permanent record and was added to the museum archive. This can be used by museum staff and researchers to inform exhibitions, educational activities and events in the next five years and beyond.

A DVD recording of the day is now in the museum’s collection and is available for use by researchers, groups wishing to develop a similar project or people wanting to know more about the day.

Overall Cost of Project

The project cost £27,745 and was kindly funded by Arts Council England, Heritage Lottery Fund, Hampshire County Council, East Hampshire District Council and Petersfield Town Council.