Community History Projects

As a teacher I was always keen for my pupils to get involved in local history and, where possible, to engage with the community by visiting libraries, museums and archives offices and by speaking to family, friends and neighbours about their local heritage. In 2014 I was privileged to be able to work with Kendal Town Council on two projects to commemorate the Centenary of the Great War, both of which were paid for by the council and enabled by local military historian and councillor, Mr Paul Bramham. The first was an exhibition which was lodged in the Town Hall during July and August 2014 and is still available for use by local people and the second was a school production called ‘Kendal Pals’ which was written by my excellent Colleague, Mr Jon Linaker and performed at the Queen Katherine School during November 2014. Jon is keen to stage the show again in 2018, during the Centenary of the Armistice. For me, both projects were sometimes stressful, but ultimately profoundly moving and worthwhile.

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Stephen Roberts and Paul Bramham at the Kendal Great War Centenary Exhibition 28th July 2014

Without Paul’s help, the exhibition would never have been possible, but it consisted of a number of ‘roll-out’ panels or banners bearing information about aspects of local experiences of the Great War. Several school pupils and students from the sixth form planned and wrote the banners. It was a very demanding task because of the word limit. The following panel, for example, was written by Mark Curran, who at that time was in Year 12.

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One of My Favourite Panels because it mentions local Hero Wavell Wakefield who captained the England Rugby Team in the 1920s. It was written by Mark Curran.

Others were planned by lower school pupils, but the hardest task of all was designing the actual panels. There was only one student with sufficient expertise to do it – Stan McNulty, who spent hours on his ancient laptop, usually late at night, trying to get the perfect layout for each panel. Stan rose to the challenge with energy and aplomb. I am sure it was a huge learning experience and we were certainly extremely grateful to him. It was very rewarding to see the public interact with the exhibits.

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This lady was not the only one who sat down and made notes from the panels.

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Others brought in heirlooms and artifacts of their own, which we helped to identify.

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The play ‘Kendal Pals’ was written by drama teacher, Jon Linaker. It was based on true stories about local men who joined the 8th Battalion of the Border Regiment in 1914 and were later killed during the war – Walter ‘Togo’ Dixon, Thomas Wilson and John Grant. It was enormously successful and really deserves a wider audience.

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The Kendal Pals: Jon Linaker is back row 6th from left; right of him is Musical Director, Rob Shillitoe, who played the role of Colonel Birt. I was Sergeant-Major Thompson – the ugly one with the grey moustache.

I learned an awful lot from these projects and am currently organising another one for my former home town of Carnforth which is twinned with Sailly Sur La Lys in Northern France. We shall be applying for Heritage Lottery Funds in order to create an exhibition similar to the Kendal one and will be collaborating with our friends in France. This page on my Great War North West site explains it in greater depth.

I can help you with any plans you might have for your own community history project. It can be about anything, not just the Great War. Get in touch with me via my contact page. I look forward to hearing from you.