Thoughts from Steve Kerss, Project Director.
On a damp day in January 2014, to my surprise, a larger than expected group turned up at Smallcombe Cemetery following the call to many loosely related local organisations that might have an interest in ‘doing something about the derelict state of the place’.
As we negotiated the overgrown paths, all nodded emphatically when statements were made about the sad state of the graves, the laid-down crosses, and tree roots growing out of collapsing walls. Then, as we concluded the tour, the word ‘something’ mysteriously turned into ‘someone’ as a voice said ‘someone must do something about this state of affairs’. What I had not realised was that this ‘someone’ would end up being me.
Nearly four years later, having completed the project, I and others have written this section of the website so that hopefully you may be inspired by what can be achieved by a community led project and also learn a little from our experience.
Perhaps look at this brief film to see what we have managed to do.
But not withstanding all that has been achieved, there are some interesting observations which might surprise, plus some useful lessons for those aspiring to take on similar projects.
Before I started this project, I didn’t know any of the people who would subsequently join my core team to lead the specific project roles.
There are many willing and highly experienced people who are ready to help; the key is to find them, and to inspire them with a common purpose and vision, and to employ a collegiate approach.
Those who say ‘something must be done’ when they see neglected heritage are right, but that alone is unlikely to attract the money you need.
To get investment you must demonstrate not only that there is strong public support for what you propose, but also that the public will value, use and benefit from it when it’s done.
To the surprise of many, the Heritage Lottery Fund, our local Council, Local Trusts and the People of Bath all gave substantial funds in a timely fashion without imposing undue bureaucratic processes upon us.
Raising funds is nowhere near as difficult as you might think provided you can demonstrate real and substantial community support and, crucially, that you will exercise good management control over the money and the project.
Many people interested in heritage have inquiring minds and like to explore and further their knowledge. The trick is to satisfy that interest and present information without detracting from the heritage and the atmosphere of the site.
The use of smartphone quick response (QR) code technology to bring video heritage information to the phone offers a very low cost and unobtrusive presentation technique. The jury may still be out on this approach, but we implemented it very successfully.
To provide further insight on the above, some of our team members have written individual articles about their approach to making the project a success. These are included in this section on the basis that their experiences, thoughts and strategies may prove useful to others taking on local heritage projects.
Best of luck.