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MK Underground

A project exploring the hidden history of Milton Keynes

Initiated and run by

MK Underground was a heritage exhibition, film and complementary programme of events that took place between October 2009 and May 2011. The project was devised and delivered by MK Arts for Health, a charity based at Milton Keynes Hospital working to enhance health and healing through creativity and a number of partners including Buckinghamshire County Museum, Milton Keynes Museum, Milton Keynes Council and Milton Keynes Heritage Association.

Funding sources

The project was funded by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund with additional support Opportunities for Volunteers through the Department of Health.

Aims

Participants learn to survey earthworks with the Senior Archaeological Officer, Milton Keynes Council.

Planned and built just over 40 years ago, Milton Keynes has a reputation as a new city and there is a strong perception locally as well as nationally that Milton Keynes has “no heritage”. It is part of Milton Keynes Council’s Heritage Strategy to widen access to Milton Keynes related archives and collections and engage with new and more diverse audiences for heritage. A recent Collections Audit (2008) for Milton Keynes Council reported a strong local perception that council collections held in Aylesbury were too far away, Milton Keynes residents either did not know about the museum resources there or felt it too far to travel. With this local need in mind, the MK Underground project was set up to celebrate and raise local awareness of the history of Milton Keynes from Roman times to the present.

Feeling a sense of place, and pride of place, is important for an individual’s sense of well-being and for cohesive communities. The project was devised to offer benefits for social interaction and learning to target participants which included: young people not in education or employment, people with physical or learning disabilities and people with or at risk of developing mental health issues, as well as school children and families.

The participatory project activities had two aims: to encourage new audiences for heritage and to offer therapeutic benefits through participation. The activities were targeted at people from disadvantaged backgrounds who tend to have less experience of visiting museums or heritage sites. The activities offered informal learning and empowering experiences to aid well-being, increase confidence and self-esteem and, where applicable, help reduce the risk of depression.

Work done and results

MK Underground consisted of three phases of participatory activities to produce the following outputs: 1) The Exhibition, 2) The Film, 3) The Artworks. The exhibition objects provided the starting point for creating the film and the artworks. Below is a summary of each phase:

The Exhibition:

  • 6 month programme of training workshops with local volunteers to plan the exhibition. The programme included IT training sessions, visits to BCM and its Education and Resource Centre in Aylesbury, visits to local archives, group work and animation workshops.
  • Participants were people who were long-term unemployed through health reasons.
  • The exhibition of over 30 objects and interpretation materials was produced by the team and displayed in Milton Keynes Hospital’s Cardiology Waiting area for 12 months.

Filming at Bancroft Roman Villa.

  • 6 weeks of workshops for participants working with a professional filmmaker (contracted through the Living Archive, local heritage organisation).
  • Participants were people who were long-term unemployed through health reasons.
  • The film had a premiere screening at Bletchley Park and was subsequently screened at a number of community venues across Milton Keynes.

The Artworks:

  • Series of arts/craft workshops with a range of freelance artists including wood-carving, metalwork, pottery, print-making, mosaic.
  • The workshops were held with the public, schools and community groups.
  • The artworks were assembled and framed and now hang in GP surgery waiting areas across Milton Keynes.
  • An extension project enabled further workshops to create a large-scale mosaic for Milton Keynes Hospital’s ward 22.

Milton Keynes Council’s Conservation and Archaeology Team contributed to all three project stages. This contribution comprised:

  1. Specialist advice on site selection in relation to exhibition artefacts.
  2. A talk and interactive IT workshop demonstrating access to Milton Keynes HER via the MKi Observatory and Heritage Gateway websites.
  3. Advice on heritage site selection and expert/local guides for the film.
  4. Participation in two site visits for the film.
  5. Provision of earthwork survey activity and site information for The Toot site visit featured in the film.
  6. Hosting a family printmaking workshop at MK Archaeology Day 2010.

Lessons learned

The project was very successful in attracting new audiences to heritage. The overriding message through the feedback from both long-term participants and one-off audiences was that they never before knew Milton Keynes had so much history or so many heritage sites.
Participants filming at Bancroft Roman Villa.

Participants gained a range of benefits by taking part and the activities sparked genuine interest and real learning.

The film made through the project has become a useful legacy resource and the artworks created though the project’s outreach arts workshops help to brighten the clinical environment and have been warmly received by healthcare staff.

From the point of view of the Conservation and Archaeology Team, Milton Keynes Council the project represented a good opportunity for the team to engage in outreach activity despite a limited staff resource (just one archaeologist in post covering Development Management and HER).

The project also helped raise awareness of the Historic Environment Record and portals to it such as the Heritage Gateway and MKi Observatory Heritage Theme as well as providing content for the Council’s Archaeology Day where the exhibition panels, film and an art workshop have all featured over the past 2 years.

Further information

ALGAO general enquiries
01223 728592
admin [at] algao.org.uk

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