In April 2016 Newry, Mourne and Down District Council secured £55,000 to deliver the Bessbrook Model Village Living History Archive project, through the Ring of Gullion Landscape Partnership.
Funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, this project aimed to empower the people of Bessbrook to learn about the unique and rich history of their village, and to share the heritage of the village in a new and innovative way.
This project developed local skills by using creative interpretation to tell the story of Bessbrook, and sought to engage the local community in an entertaining way through the use of intergenerational and cross-community workshops.
The project outcomes include:
- A fun and interactive website with a searchable database of artefacts.
- Six historical docu-dramas, with a mix of interviews and scripted historical scenes to interpret the most fascinating historical events of Bessbrook’s history.
- Training the local community in media, community engagement and artefact and historical interpretation.
- Building a strong community network that bridges the political, religious and generational divide.
Art Interpretation Workshops
The first step in the project was to work with the local community in the form of engagement workshops. Local primary and secondary schools were invited to take part in art engagement workshops to uncover the history of Bessbrook. These workshops gave young people the opportunity to research the history of the village, understanding its significance and then learning how to share this story through their selected medium.
This coincided with the adult group workshops, who researched the history of Bessbrook and learned skills in creative writing and art interpretation to share their findings with the wider community.
The work completed by these groups was then used to create a felt wall hanging, which can be viewed in Bessbrook Library.
Video Production Workshops
A series of six media workshops were held for young people aged 16 to 25. The young people were introduced to the history of Bessbrook and received some insightful talks from residents and historians. They were then tasked with writing short stories about villagers in the 19th century and these would make up the content for the six historical docu-dramas.
The young people received training in producing for TV, producing for film and the technical and creative elements which make up video production.
The official launch of the project happened in Bessbrook Town Hall. This event was attended by many people from the village and surrounding areas, with an interest in learning more about its heritage, and reminiscing about times gone by.
At the event, Alf McCreary and Graham McAleer treated residents to tales about growing up in the village and the mischief that they found themselves in a lot of the time!
The evening then opened to a Question & Answer session in which residents were able to pose their questions to the panel and share their own memories. An informal discussion ensued about the village and guests were invited to tell stories of their childhood.
Show and Tell Evening
This event formed the basis for the Digital Living History Archive. Residents of Bessbrook were asked to search through their cupboards, hoke under the stairs and raid the attic to find artefacts that were significant to the history.
Afterwards, they were invited to the “Show and Tell” Evening and had a chance to get their item appraised and have its cultural significance explained by museum curators. A video production team then took photographs to add to the online digital archive of artefacts. This event had a large turn out and positive feedback, collecting items from different cultural eras and helping to build the story of Bessbrook
Throughout the spring and summer, Rosemary Mullholland treated enthusiastic groups to a tour through the village and its most interesting landmarks. The Dawn Chorus saw groups walk through the village in the early hours while the Midsummer Day walk basked in the sun while hearing tales of days gone by.
Throughout the project, a digital team were collecting and collating items for publishing on an online searchable database. These items were curated by heritage experts, and a description and cultural significance was recorded.
Images were collected at the Show & Tell event, and items from a collection of artefacts stored at Bessbrook Primary School were made available to the project. These items were inspected by the heritage experts and museum curators, then added to the database.
The end result is a categorised inventory of items that tell the story of Bessbrook from the personal angle of its residents. This database is free to use and accessed from www.bessbrook.org – This archive will continue to grow after the project as local people are encouraged to add to the website.
During the media workshops, the young people explored stories from the history of Bessbrook. These stories focused on fundamental elements of the village’s growth and looked at how significant these monuments were in the development of the village.
The young people then had an opportunity to write their own stories about a fictional character in Bessbrook, and they were tasked with tying the storyline to a particular theme. The digital production team then worked with the young people to produce and film the docu-dramas, using local talent to star in the production.
These docu-dramas are available to view at www.bessbrook.org