Collaborating on the coast: making heritage for the future at Orford Ness

CITiZAN (Lara Band, Project Officer) and Heritage Futures (Nadia Bartolini, Post Doctoral Researcher, University of Exeter) collaborated at National Trust Orford Ness between 2016-2019.

CITiZAN (Coastal and Intertidal Zone Archaeological Network) is an England wide public archaeology project based at MOLA and supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund 2015 – 2021. We raise awareness of the effects climate and coastal change on archaeology and work with volunteers to record and monitor sites at risk from coastal erosion. Orford Ness was a CITiZAN Key Sites from 2015 due to its dynamic coastline and wealth of 20th century military remains.

Heritage Futures (2015-2019) was a four year UK Arts and Humanities Research Council funded transdisciplinary research programme supported by UCL and York, Exeter and Linnaeus Universities. The project compared heritage practices across different domains to explore alternative ways of shaping future legacies. Heritage Futures were also working on Orford Ness, investigating how the National Trust dealt with landscape transformation and loss.

Informal networking and the power of social media created the collaboration: CITiZAN tweeted about a great day on Orford Ness with volunteers. This was picked up by Heritage Futures, Lara contacted Nadia and CITiZAN became a formally recognised Heritage Futures project partner.

Financial and temporal constraints across the heritage sector mean it is hard to explore new ways of working, especially if the old ways are still delivering. We hoped this collaboration would give us the opportunity, space and encouragement to consider more deeply:

  • The value that places hold for people
  • The ways in which humans and non-humans interact in the present
  • How and why we save things for the future
  • How considering these will enable us to reach a wider audience

The benefits were multiple. CITiZAN volunteers’ contributions were recognised and valued beyond CITiZAN. Heritage Futures better understood how and why heritage professionals and volunteers value heritage and how we understand and rationalise loss. Working with the National Trust highlighted the dynamics of managing naturally and culturally significant landscapes and exposed their false dichotomy. Working with volunteers is the most transdisciplinary, collaborative work situation you’ll ever find: CITiZAN volunteers’ skills and knowledge, gained in other sectors, definitely enriched our work.

Legacies include the Heritage Futures film Recording Loss and CITiZAN’s inclusion in Heritage Futures exhibition at Manchester Museum, 2018-2021. Lara and Nadia co-wrote a paper for TAGDeva (Theoretical Archaeology Group conference 2018). CITiZAN also collaborated on the 2018 Knowledge Exchange, designed to inform the forthcoming Orford Ness conservation management plan, and have been cited in various Heritage Futures papers. All this enhances CITiZAN’s visibility and the potential for sustainability beyond 2021.

That this collaboration grew from one small Tweet highlights the importance of public dissemination and visibility. Collaborations lead to project outputs beyond those initially envisaged, enriching all stakeholders. Nadia Bartolini’s blog  written right at the beginning of our work together puts our work, and all that came out if it, neatly into context.

Image credit: Lara Band