Department of History

Connected Communities – Writing our History: Digging Our Past

Writing our History: Digging our Past was an AHRC-funded Connected Communities project to assist community groups in the East Midlands and beyond to delve into their local history and archaeology by providing access to the expertise and resources of professional arts and humanities researchers.

Over two years, the University supported more than 20 local heritage projects with training in research skills and digital technology, funding and expertise for historical and archaeological research, and workshops and showcase events to bring community heritage groups together. Many of these projects are continuing with ongoing research collaborations between University academics, local heritage organisations and community partners. 



Writing Our History: Digging Our Past ran in two phases in 2012 and 2013. The project was funded under the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s (AHRC) Connected Communities 'Research for Community Heritage' strand, which aims to encourage understanding of the changing nature of communities and community values and the impact which their heritage and cultural contexts have on our quality of life.

Phase 1: Challenge Fund to support individual community heritage projects in  funding bids

In Phase 1, PI Professor Elizabeth Harvey (History) led a team of University of Nottingham academics in the School of Humanities with existing research collaborations with local heritage partners and community groups. £25,000 was awarded, of which £5000 was ring-fenced as a ‘Challenge Fund’ to support individual community projects. University academics also delivered a series of open days and workshops outlining opportunities for local groups and to develop their links with organisations including Derbyshire Record Office and Derby City Council local libraries, the National Trust, and Durban House, home to the DH Lawrence Heritage Centre.

The community heritage projects were supported to develop new stand-alone projects and to bid for available funding through organisations such as the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), and particularly the 'All Our Stories' programme. We ran a successful project-development workshop and provided exert guidance on bid-writing, and subsequently several of our community partners – including the Southwell Community Archaeology Group, Remembering Wartime Thoresby, the Raleigh Project and the Killamarsh History Society – were successful in gaining an 'All Our Stories' grant.

Phase 2: Connected Communities: Research for Community Heritage

In 2012, the University of Nottingham was one of 18 institutions to receive a second grant under the AHRC Connected Communities 'Research for Community Heritage’ funding stream, for a total of £86,000 to support community heritage projects in the East Midlands and beyond which had received HLF ‘All Our Stories’ funding. 

Our 15 community partners in Phase 2, who had been awarded Heritage Lottery Funding under its ‘All Our Stories’ scheme were:

  • Derwent Valley Mills Heritage Site Educational Trust – project ‘Derwent Valley Mills Volunteer Heritage Guides in the Digital Age’
  • Southwell Community Archaeology Group – project ‘Burgage Earthworks Project’
  • Cottesmore History and Archaeology Group – project ‘The Living Village’
  • The Stonebridge Trust – project ‘Remembering Wartime Thoresby’
  • Hanby and Barrett Community Theatre Productions – project ‘The Raleigh – A Workers’ History of an Iconic Nottingham Factory’
  • The Bonsall History Project – project ‘Bonsall History Trails and Leaflets’
  • Killamarsh Heritage Society – project ‘A History of Killamarsh’
  • Darley Abbey Historical Group – project ‘St Matthews to Walter Evans School’
  • Charnwood Arts – project ‘Changing Spaces, Trading Places’
  • Leicester Secular Society – project ‘For Truth’s Sake – The History of Leicester Secular Society and its Hall’
  • Pomegranate Playwriting Group – project ‘The Candy Girl’
  • Barrow upon Trent Parish Plan – project ‘Barrow upon Trent discovers its past’
  • Southwell Care Project – project ‘Flowers, Forests and Folklore’
  • Corby Borough Heritage Forum – project ‘All Our Corbies’
  • The Friends of Corhampton Church – project ‘The Story of the Saxons in the Meon Valley’.

Writing Our History: Digging Our Past (Phase 2) was led by Richard Gaunt (History, PI) and Chris King (Archaeology, Co-I), and supported by Judith Mills (History Early Career Researcher) and Paul Johnson (Archaeology Early Career Researcher). Over the course of the year the projects received expert guidance and training, and participated in a series of community heritage events organised and run by the University of Nottingham and partner organisations. The project was also supported by the National Co-Ordinating Centre for Public Engagement (NCCPE).



Challenge Fund awards to individual community heritage projects

As in Phase 1, approximately £9000 was awarded to individual projects as a ‘Challenge Fund’ to support specific research activities.

The additional funding allowed community heritage groups to access University of Nottingham staff expertise and resources to help them achieve specific goals, or to take advantage of methods and techniques which they had not considered when developing their original ‘All Our Stories’ project proposals and which emerged out of new collaborations and ideas within the project. The funded activities included:

  • Barrow-upon-Trent: a geophysical investigation and archaeological survey of mysterious earthworks on the edge of the village; also funding to assist with the production of a final book. 
  • Darley Abbey: creation of a digital 3D visualisation of the historic school building by a student from the University of Nottingham’s Department of Architecture and the Built Environment, and the creation of a physical display model using a 3D printer.
  • Thoresby in WWII: workshops and visits by volunteers to the University's Manuscripts and Special Collections, and digitisation and preparation of images for the final project exhibition. 
  • Southwell Archaeology: training for volunteers on using digital maps for presenting heritage; also expert pottery analysis and training workshops for volunteers to interpret the ceramic assemblage from the Burgage Green archaeology project. 
  • Derwent Valley: two training workshops for volunteers on recording and editing oral testimony, run by Ian Wilson and Shirley Grimshaw of University IT Services. 
  • Friends of Toton Fields: three days of archaeological and geophysical survey. 
  • Raleigh Project (Hanby and Barrett): production of educational materials and an interactive digital map of the Raleigh factory site. 
  • Caistor Roman Town: three archaeological finds identification workshops run by specialists. 
  • Anglo Saxons in the Meon Valley: historical and place-name research by Dr Kelly Kirkpatrick, School of English. 
  • Diseworth Parish Trust: an archaeological survey of the medieval parish church. 
  • Leicester Secular Society: research and preparation of a report on the experience of secularists in the 19th century, by a student in the Department of History.
  • Newark Heritage Barge: funding to assist with publication of a book. 
  • The Peel Society: reproduction and lamination of caricatures for display.


Project activities

Writing Our History: Digging Our Past brought together University academics and specialists from a host of disciplines, local heritage organisations and a very diverse range of community groups. Highlights included:
  • Training workshops in digital technologies for community heritage research, including website development, oral history and videoing, and the use of social media, organised by Ian Wilson and Shirley Grimshaw. These workshops were well-attended and received very positive feedback from the community groups.
  • Training workshops on archival research skills, ‘Introduction to Archives’ and ‘Preserving your Collection’, organised by Judith Mills in collaboration with project partner organisation Derbyshire Record Office. 
  • Training workshops in geophysical survey and the use of GIS for archaeological research, organised by Paul Johnson and project partner organisation Trent and Peak Archaeology.
  • Development of a new community heritage website with the input of local community groups, to showcase new discoveries and ongoing work:
  • A mid-term showcase event allowed community groups to share their findings and reflect on the challenges of running a community heritage project.
  • The final Community Heritage Showcase on 7 December 2013 was a major occasion for all those involved in Writing Our History: Digging Our Past to come together and celebrate their achievements. Community groups presented the exciting results of their 'All Our Stories' projects through talks, posters, table-top displays and digital presentations. We also had the opportunity to hear from David Stocker, a member of HLF’s East Midlands regional committee, and Jenni Chambers, NCCPE Associate and RCUK Senior Policy Manager for Public Engagement with Research, and presented them both with a photo album which documented the project’s multiple activities over the year. The day was appropriately rounded off with a performance of Christmas music by the community choir of Barrow-upon-Trent, one of our community project partners. 


Co-production awards

The Department of History also received two separate Co-Production awards for specific research projects under the AHRC Research for Community Heritage strand.

Trade and Traffic on the River Trent and Associated Waterways, 1850–1970

(PI Richard Gaunt, Co-I Philip Riden) was a Research Co-Production project with the Friends of Newark Heritage Barge. The project focused on the history of the River Trent, including both trade and traffic on the river and the lives of riverside communities and river-based families, with the objective of understanding how the Trent has shaped the history and social structure of the region.

Trade and Transport on the River Trent project page

The Social World of Nottingham’s Historic Green Spaces

(PI John Beckett, RAs Judith Mills, Jonathan Coope), was a Research Co-Production project with the University of Derby (Co-I Paul Elliott), Nottingham City Council, and several local heritage organisations, examining the ‘green spaces’ deliberately created around the city by the 1845 parliamentary enclosure legislation, and their significance for the past history and contemporary culture of Nottingham.

Nottingham Green Spaces website



Community Heritage website


Heritage Lottery Fund

Research/Project team

Phase 1:

Phase 2:

  • Dr Richard Gaunt (Principal Investigator)
  • Dr Christopher King (Co-Investigator)
  • Dr Judith Mills (History Early Career Researcher)
  • Paul Johnson (Archaeology Early Career Researcher) 

Collaborative partners

D.H. Lawrence Birthplace

Derby City Council Libraries

Derbyshire Record Office

National Trust

Trent and Peak Archaeology Service



Department of History

University of Nottingham
University Park
Nottingham, NG7 2RD

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