WEA Digability project staff were invited to speak at the IFA’s annual conference in Birmingham in April 2013, and to contribute to two sessions from the three-day event.
The Institute for Archaeologists (http://www.archaeologists.net/) is a professional organisation for all archaeologists and others involved in protecting and understanding the historic environment. The conference is one of the biggest archaeology conferences in the UK, and is attended by a diverse body of delegates including academics, local authority managers, archaeological consultants and many of the IFA’s 3100 members.
The sessions we were invited to contribute to focused upon: 1) the Social Benefits of Archaeology (http://www.archaeologists.net/2013communities); and 2) the Impact of the Big Society (http://www.archaeologists.net/2013bigsociety) .
Our Leeds Digability film was shown at the Social Benefits of Archaeology session. It complemented other contributions which spoke of offender rehabilitation, youth engagement and supporting participants with visual impairments. This is the fourth outing for the Leeds film, which itself has received incredibly positive feedback.
Nicola spoke at the Impact of the Big Society session, and participated in the session plenary discussion. Her talk was entitled: Digability and the WEA: The Benefits, Achievements and Legacy of the Inclusive Archaeology Education Project.
Abstract: A central aim of the Workers’ Educational Association (WEA) is to provide adult education programmes which emphasise social purpose and promote active citizenship. In 2011 we embarked upon a three year Heritage Lottery funded Inclusive Archaeology Education Project, delivering bespoke courses to groups of adults (including those with learning disabilities, physical impairments, mental health difficulties and those from the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities). Initially established upon the premise that everyone is entitled to have a stake in their heritage, the project has since begun to challenge and transform both the mindset and practice not only within the wider heritage and social care sectors, but also within the WEA itself. Creating sustainable and mutually beneficial partnerships, investing in a legacy of inclusive educational provision, revitalising and diversifying opportunities for WEA volunteers and creating active participation opportunities for those most disadvantaged in society has enabled us to build upon the idea of a ‘Big Society’, making such a concept a relevant and workable reality.
The session as a whole, the individual papers and contributors all raised the point that Big Society was not a new idea, that in-fact there were many organisations and projects that had been achieving similar objectives (around empowerment of local communities, inclusivity and volunteerism) prior to the 2010 Conservative Flagship Manifesto of a Big Society.
Attendance to the conference enabled Digability project staff to make crucial links with a range of organisations operating across the heritage sector and seek the potential to further the good work we are doing beyond the life of our current HLF funding.