Volunteering with Scotland's Urban Past

This blog post by Hetty Lancaster summarises her volunteering experience with Scotland's Urban Past.

Submitted by Hetty L on 18-11-2015 14:53:05

Volunteering with Scotland’s Urban Past Project

This year I’ve been volunteering with Scotland’s Urban Past (SUP), a 5 year project run by the newly formed Historic Environment Scotland. I was attracted to the project as our towns and cities have changed a lot over the last few generations and I thought it would be good to be involved in researching and recording various aspects of our urban heritage. It also tied-in nicely with my degree in Social and Architectural History and it helps to remind me that history and heritage are not just the things that happened in the dim-and-distant past but are actually being made every day by us all.

As it turned out the project team were not doing the researching and recording themselves but rather enabling and encouraging communities, groups and individuals to explore their local heritage and research it through archive materials such as maps, old photos, documents, etc. This material can then be collated and presented in a variety of formats including video, digital mapping, exhibitions, oral histories, printed guides, and many more, all of which can be added to a national database of buildings and monuments. In this way there are many beneficiaries – the individuals that took part, their wider community, the national database, and future generations.

The SUP team, of seven people, were all very friendly and welcoming and I mostly worked with Bryony, who does events and communications, and Nicky and Danny, who are both training officers. Over the summer, I came into the SUP office one day a week and took part in many different things including: writing some blogs; doing background research for an upcoming campaign about tiny buildings in Scotland; going on a site visit and helping with the recording of data; and taking photos and providing sketches to illustrate an architectural glossary which will be added to the SUP online resources.

I’ve also been able to take part in team meetings and learnt more about accessing Canmore (the national collection of Scotland’s archaeological, architectural and industrial sites) as well as some of the basic aspects of copyright - I was even a film assistant for a morning when the team had a promotional video made!

A photograph of a woman looking at archival material.Exploring the national collections at John Sinclair House.

The whole experience has been really great, quite apart from meeting some very nice and interesting people, it has given me a much better idea of what is involved in the running of a large scale and long-term heritage project. From the different roles within the project team to the constraints around funding, and from the marketing to the engagement process, my volunteering has been an invaluable experience all round...and my sketching has improved!

Outside of the project it has also changed the way I see my local environment as I look at buildings and cityscapes much more closely now. I’m also pretty sure I’ll see some subtle changes in my studies too, especially as cities are a key theme this year, and there’s no doubt that it has broadened my approach to urban heritage – both what it is and why it matters.

So it’s a big thank you from me to the whole SUP team. 

A collage of architectural sketches.A selection of my sketches. "Architectural sketches" by Hetty Lancaster is licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0

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