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Helping Welsh communities connect with their heritage

Woman holding up a small piece of art

Earlier in 2023, The Open University in Wales received a National Lottery Heritage Fund grant for a heritage project, Wales REACH (Residents engaging in arts, culture and heritage). Made possible by money raised by National Lottery players, the project focuses on supporting people in five areas of Wales to use creative arts to explore connections with the history of their local community 

  • In Gwynedd, the OU in Wales, Adra housing, the National Slate Museum, Yr Orsaf and Gwynedd Archaeological Trust teamed up with residents in Penygroes, an ex-slate quarrying village. They discovered local Iron Age hillforts, visited the old quarry, created slate art and explored sustainable living through wild and community gardens.
  • In rural Pembrokeshire, residents looked at lesser-known social history in St Davids, invasive coastal species and sustainability, and how to use ‘Cynefin’ and ‘our place’ to inspire creative writing and painting. This was an OU collaboration with ateb housing, Pembrokeshire Coastal Park authority and EcoDewi.  
  • In the Butetown area of Cardiff, residents of Somali, Arabic and Yemeni heritage came together with the OU in Wales Taff housing, Amgueddfa Cymru and Butetown Community Centre. Through creative writing, art and old photos, and exploring the wildlife of the regenerated docklands, they remembered the Butetown docks and look at multiculturalism and identity.  
  • Residents in Port Talbot joined the OU in Wales, Linc Cymru housing, Amgueddfa Cymru, and Sandfields Library to look at the hidden and ancient history of the area. They toured the local finds at Swansea Museum, planned a community garden and created art and prose connecting past and present local lives. 
  • People with learning disabilities in Rhondda Cynon Taff and the Vale of Glamorgan explored the connections between local heritage and natural history through the visual arts. This was facilitated by Innovate Trust, First Choice Housing Association and St Fagans National Museum of History.  

Thanks to National Lottery players 

We’re grateful to have received this support from National Lottery players,’ said OU in Wales academic lead, senior lecturer Richard Marsden. This project is all about bringing communities together through heritage and the creative arts, while at the same time learning more about how and why the past matters to people, and it’s been fantastic to hear people’s stories and see so many great ideas coming out of the development phase workshops.  

‘We’re excited to see what the next phase will bring as we support participants to explore, create, showcase and preserve the history and heritage of their own community.’ 

Next steps 

We’ve discovered fantastic stories, local treasures and hidden talents through our development workshops and have used the opinions and suggestions of residents to design the delivery phase of the project.

Ruth Poultney
Project manager

The team is ending the development phase with a family-friendly celebration event in each community. These will bring together local history and creative arts and allow residents to reflect on the project so far, collaborate on plans for the delivery, and celebrate their heritage and talents. 

‘We’ve discovered fantastic stories, local treasures and hidden talents through our development workshops and have used the opinions and suggestions of residents to design the delivery phase of the project,’ said project manager Ruth Poultney. The celebration events are a great way to end the first stage of Wales REACH and really showcase the best of the communities who have welcomed the project and shared their heritage with us. 

The OU is applying for a further National Lottery Heritage Fund grant to continue delivery of the project across Wales.  

The delivery phase will see the OU continuing to work with local partners including community leaders, housing associations, Amgueddfa Cymru, Arts Council Wales, Public Health Wales and People’s Collection Wales. This phase will continue for two years.  

Over this period the project will deliver archaeology, local history, natural history and creative arts workshops in participating communities, finishing with a series of in-person and digital exhibitions. These will celebrate the heritage of each area through the work of local people.

Wales REACH is a national extension of the OU in Wales’ BG REACH programme, (funded by URKI) which supported residents in Blaenau Gwent to explore their history.

National Lottery Heritage Fund grant applications over £250,000 are assessed in two rounds. Wales REACH was initially granted support for the development phase by The National Lottery Heritage Fund in April 2023, allowing it to progress with its plans. Detailed proposals are then considered by The National Lottery Heritage Fund at second round in November, where a final decision is made on the full funding of a 2 year delivery phase.

Using money raised by the National Lottery, the National Lottery Heritage Fund inspires, leads and resources the UK’s heritage to create positive and lasting change for people and communities, now and in the future. Since The National Lottery began in 1994, National Lottery players have raised over £43 billion for projects and more than 635,000 grants have been awarded across the UK.

Follow @HeritageFundUK on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and use #NationalLotteryHeritageFund

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