Presentations of the project

16th December 2014 – TAG Manchester 

A3. Does archaeology have to become instrumentalised to be accessible? [Social purpose intro]

Victoria Beauchamp ( and Nicola Thorpe (, Workers’ Educational Association


The Workers’ Educational Association (WEA) has recently completed a three-year project that aimed to engage people from disadvantaged backgrounds with archaeology. The Digability Project did not set out to create 300 archaeologists but, rather, to engage people with the heritage of their local surroundings and to help develop understanding of the subject.

The project developed educational programmes that provided a taste of what archaeology can offer and, coupled with a foundation based on ‘social purpose’ education, students were challenged to question the information presented and encouraged to make interpretations from their own perspectives. The resulting experiences were rewarding. Sites and course content were viewed from different perspectives (sometimes literally, as from a wheelchair) and this led to stimulating discussions. There were additional, unforeseen, benefits too, such as improvements to individuals’ health, wellbeing, and social functionality.

The project did not seek to instrumentalise archaeology. Tutors wanted students to engage with ‘real’ experiences and for archaeologists to present their work ‘accessibly’. We found that a lack of experience and confidence, amongst some professionals, often led to separate or ‘special’ tasks being found for students with additional needs. This highlights that more training in engaging different communities is required. This approach would emphasise inclusivity rather than instrumentalisation.

Archaeology can remain a professional and rigorous discipline, whilst still striving to broaden both audiences and participants. We should not fear an inclusive approach. However, it should be driven by recognition of the inherent long-term value in it, and not just because it is the political flavour of the month!

19th April 2013 – IFA Big Society Conference  Nicola will be giving a paper entitle: Digability and the WEA: The Benefits, Achievements and Legacy of the Inclusive Archaeology Education Project.

Abstract: The mission 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 Ethnic Minority communities).  Initially established upon the premise that everyone is entitled to have a stake hold 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 the WEA volunteer 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.

‘Celebrating Community Archaeology in the South Pennines’Conference, Bradford – Display about the project.

16th Feb 2013: Dearne Archaeology Day- Victoria presented a paper entitled Digability in the Dearne Valley and Beyond.

2nd February 2013 – Nicola Thorpe presented a paper at the CBA AGM in York.

December 17-19th 2012

Theoretical Archaeology Group Conference (TAG) in the session called Disability and Archaeology: Critical Perspectives and Inclusive Practices.

Our Tag paper got a great write up in POSTHOLE

Celebration Events

WEA Yorkshire and Humber
Beth Deakin – presented by Foizal Islam; WEA Trustee

7th November 2012 – Beth collected her award for Best Volunteer for Yorkshire and Humber at the WEA National Awards in London.

25th September 2012

Learners from Burton Street met at the new clayworks building at Manor Lodge, Sheffield, for a celebration event. Learners were excited to collect their certificates and scrapbooks and recall everything they had achieved.


22nd June 2012

Learner collecting his certificate

We had a celebration event for the Bentley, Goldthorpe and Malby groups hosted by the Addison Centre. Learners made posters of all the things they had enjoyed doing, recalled their favourite moments and took part in a end of course quiz. We then presented all the learners with their certificates.


8th May 2012

Sheffield had a very successful launch event with representatives of Sheffield Community Heritage Forum,  local archaeologists, Senior WEA Staff and new volunteers attending as well as family and friends of the learners.  For more information see the Sheffield page of this website.

16th March 2012 Launch at Maltby Addison Centre:

Carers, family members, local press, centre staff and a potential partner and learners for year 2 attended the event, and found out a bit more about what the learners from Addison had been doing so far.  A recent interview on Trax FM had already helped raise the profile of the project and the group, to the local community.

10th February 2012 – Regional Launch at Leeds Museum Discovery Centre.  Over 50 people attended, including learners and potential learners from Maltby, Bradford and Leeds, as well as WEA tutors and staff, volunteers, partners and archaeologists from across the region.  A tour of the Discovery Centre was provided for attendees by the Centre’s Education and Outreach Officer, Liz Knight.

3rd February – Launches in Goldthorpe and Bentley.  At Bentley Councillor Richard Cooper- Holmes came to find out more.

Goldthorpe Learners

31st JanuaryGrimsby Launch Event – This event was such a success 5 new learners signed up for the project.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s