Nestled deep in a West Cardiff suburb, surrounded by houses, is one of the most important, yet little understood, prehistoric monuments in the region – Caerau Hillfort. In 2011, archaeologists and historians from Cardiff University teamed up with local community organisation ACE (Action in Caerau and Ely), local residents and schools to establish the CAER Heritage Project, in order to explore Cardiff’s prehistoric past and put local people at the heart of cutting-edge research. Surrounded on three sides by the housing estates of Caerau and Ely, the ramparts of Caerau hillfort are hidden beneath woodland, meaning many people don’t even realise it is there.
The estates that surround the hillfort are home to more than 25,000 people and, despite strong community ties; many local residents are burdened by significant social and economic deprivation, particularly high unemployment. From the outset the project’s key objectives have therefore been to employ archaeology and history to develop educational opportunities and to challenge stigmas and marginalisation associated with these communities. The project has involved community participants in a variety of co-produced projects, including geophysical survey, Iron-Age themed art installations, museum exhibitions, adult learners courses, heritage trails and a large-scale community excavation.
The CAER Heritage Project approaches the aspiration of co-production critically and is mindful of potential issues around power, politics and participation, placing an emphasis on community assets. To date the project has involved a myriad of non-HE partners (primary and secondary schools, community groups, youth workers, community development workers, local residents, the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff Story Museum, the Glamorgan Archive, Cardiff Council etc.) alongside academics, undergraduates and postgraduates from a range of disciplines at Cardiff (history, archaeology, social sciences, Welsh). Many of the projects outcomes and impacts have organically evolved from these relationships and include for example (i) pupils producing museum exhibitions, performances and artwork, heritage trails school projects and even participating in a Timeteam programme; (ii) large eco-graffiti art installations, puppet shows, heritage trail designs and the creation of an Iron-Age themed mural with local young people excluded from school; and (iii) the creation of a series of heritage trails involving early career academics from history and the social sciences (Dr Kate Moles and Dr Stephanie Ward) working in partnership with professional artist Paul Evans and a range of local community groups to collect local memories, folklore and knowledge to populate those trails.
For a more in-depth look at this case study, click on the headings below.
- Target audience
- The Communities of Caerau and Ely including primary and secondary schools, community groups and organisations and local residents of all ages.
- How it started
- In 2010, Dr Oliver Davis interest in the Hillfort took him out into the communities surrounding the area. He began to attend community meetings, and made contact with Dave Horton, Community Develop Co-ordinator on the Welsh Government’s Communities First programme (run by ACE). At the time ACE and Communities First were four years down the line with an asset-based approach to community development. They had developed strong networks across the community and had undertaken a small number of projects with local people at the Hillfort site. Oliver and Dave called a meeting with a number of other key people including Dr David Wyatt, who had recently assumed the role of community engagement co-ordinator in the School of History, Archaeology and Religion at Cardiff University, to look at what could be done together on the site.
- Project objectives
- From the outset, the CAER Project’s key objectives have been to utilise the rich local heritage to develop educational opportunities and to challenge stigmas and marginalisation associated with these communities. To date the project has involved community participants (including school pupils, young people facing exclusion, the long term unemployed and retired people) in a variety of co-produced projects, including geophysical survey, exhibitions, adult learners courses, and the creation of heritage trails. This culminated in the summer of 2013 and 2014 in two major community excavations at Caerau’s magnificent Iron Age Hillfort. Finally a wide range of quality co-produced research outputs have been produced, with more to follow. These include for example a published paper (British Archaeology), conference papers/workshops (Hillfort Studies Group, Engage 2014). The research team are also looking to publish on the project’s methodology in a forthcoming social sciences publication on urban regeneration (Policy Press, Bristol).
- Partnerships, publicity and marketing
- To date the project has involved a myriad of non-higher education partners (primary and secondary schools, community groups, youth workers, community development workers, local residents, the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff Story Museum, the Glamorgan Archive, Cardiff Council etc.) alongside academics, undergraduates and postgraduates from a range of disciplines at Cardiff University (history, archaeology, social sciences, Welsh). At each stage the project has sought to deepen and strengthen partnerships, particularly those with communities that surrounded the Hillfort. Graduates and postgraduates have been involved at all stages and have delivered workshops and activities in participating secondary schools and at ACE events, and members of university staff were working from ACE’s offices two to three days a week.
The project also sought to reach wider audiences across Wales and UK. It was the subject of a short film produced by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and a Channel 4 Timeteam episode involving local pupils; it features in the AHRC Research for Community Heritage Brochure and is the subject of an AHRC Impact Report. The project has been endorsed by Welsh Government Ministers as well as by local councillors and headmasters. It has been cited as a shining example of engagement practice during a recent Welsh Government debate on ensuring wider access to our heritage and culture. The CAER Project also features in the recent RCUK Inspiration to Engage Concordat publication.
- An holistic approach to engagement
- The CAER project does not consider itself to be just an archaeology project. It uses a whole range of different strategies to involve people in their history and heritage. These range from excavation through to arts and performance poetry. The project team recognised that some people are not that excited by archaeology and created a wide range of avenues for people to take part, these could be as simple as the enjoyment of being outdoors with friends. The involvement of a professional artist, Paul Evans, for example opened up a wide range of creative forms of engagement with local heritage themes including large eco-graffiti art installations, puppet shows, heritage trail design and the creation of an Iron-Age themed mural with local young people who were excluded from school. Community engaged research was embedded into a series of accredited practical archaeology courses, in association with Cardiff Centre for Lifelong Learning. These have proved particularly successful in engaging long term unemployed males and have had clear benefits in terms of progression and confidence building for a number of individuals. Postgraduate and undergraduate students were involved in a wide range of engagement initiatives including excavation, museum exhibitions and the development of schools outreach workshops (e.g. Make your Own Iron Age pots, Postcards from the Iron Age, Medieval Life Swap). And finally a series of heritage trails were created with support from early career academics from history and the social sciences (Dr Kate Moles and Dr Stephanie Ward) who worked with a range of local community groups to collect local memories, folklore and knowledge to populate those trails.
- As with engagement, the project seeks to embed evaluation holistically, involving people in reflecting and contributing ideas, creativity and insights at each step. Activities often have learning outcomes associated with them, which are then assessed through collecting feedback from participants. Other sustained activities are assessed through attendance and achievements. The project team collect photographs, videos, audio interviews and feedback from participants in a variety of ways. For example, an unemployed local filmmaker was recruited to capture conversations with local people about the project. This element was particularly useful, because the local people interviewed were much more open to a local filmmaker than they would have been to an external evaluator from outside the community. The project also collects a wide range of quantitative data including things like the numbers of people who come out to the site, and number of people involved in the project and volunteer hours contributed. Finally a key element of the team’s approach is to talk to people, and record what they have learnt from the informal conversations, particularly the conversations that occur during the activities.
- Key to making it work
- At the heart of the project was a commitment to co-production. The researchers were keen to avoid more traditional ‘top-down’ approaches to undertaking archaeological and historical research. From an early stage, it was clear that they were driven by a sincere respect for and interest in the communities that lived near the Hillfort. The community partners brought incredible assets to the project, most notably the trust and networks that they had built up over years with local people, but also a deep knowledge of the area, the resilience, assets and talents of the people who live there, and an understanding of the challenges they face. Over time, the project team have developed a mutual respect for each other, more akin to friendship than partnership.