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Rendlesham Roundhouse Project, Suffolk

Initiated by

Suffolk CC Archaeological Service; Suffolk CC Extended Schools Service; The Forestry Commission

Run by

Suffolk CC Archaeological Service

Aims

The aims of the project were:

  • To engage and excite a range of young people in their heritage so to understand the use of land historically and how it relates to modern living.
  • To use archaeological evidence from Suffolk to experiment with and experience ancient technology as a means to better understand the past.
  • To work, co-operate and socialise with a range of adults and peers, team building across gender backgrounds.
  • To introduce participants to a range of specialists in ancient technology; work alongside them and learn new transferable skills and appreciate their expertise.
  • To establish a site that could be further developed as a heritage centre for young people.

The aims of the project were designed as a means of introducing young people to their heritage in a way that would allow them elements of control in an environment that was unfamiliar, demanding and potentially hazardous but that would ultimately allow them the satisfaction of success and achievement as well as the enthusiasm to go forward and discover more.

Work done and results

The project delivered 6 weeks of experimental archaeology to approx 70 young people aged 13 - 16yrs from the three school clusters across Suffolk Coastal District Council. The young people were drawn from a number of rural and urban Youth Clubs based across the district and included some targeted YP at risk of exclusion or in 'hard to reach categories'.

The young people designed and built an Iron Age roundhouse using evidence from archaeological excavations from the locality. Participants also built a Roman kitchen and bread oven, benches and tables to allow for communal eating – something several of the group found strange and pointless. All work was guided by specialists, overseen by the project manager. Materials for the project were harvested by participants. The young people were encouraged to develop an interest in the countryside and traditional green woodworking and survival skills whilst at the same time developing social; personal and team as well as real living skills as well as problem solving.

For two of the days on site each group were required to research, prepare and cook their own meals using ingredients and recipes available to the Romans, using open fires, griddles and ovens. There would be opportunities to experiment with ingredients and cooking processes (for example cooking meat in stone lined pits) and the chance to gather wild food from the surrounding countryside. Those interested in this soon found how difficult it is to source food from coniferous woodland in summer!

Whilst the kitchen was running all other food and drink was banned from site as we wanted all the young people and their youth workers to sample and enjoy the kitchen food.

Each group had the opportunity to spend one night on the site. The young people were given the choice between sleeping in the roundhouse and building their own shelters for their overnight stay. Most opted for shelter building and guided by our survival specialist and a volunteer with an army background the young people made their shelters from materials gathered directly from the woodland. They were not allowed any tarpaulins and were given limited supplies of string. Many showed little urgency as they began but as we approached the evening and the light started to fade there was a sudden realisation that this was for real. The final hour before darkness was a frenetic scramble to gather as much bracken as possible. Groups started to work together and become far more organised. It was a steep learning curve for many and emphasised the need to remove the safety net at times.

The feedback from the youth groups involved has been unanimously supportive of the work and there is a real desire for to repeat the experience in 2010. (See the letters of support included within this report). We are confident that all the young people involved left the site with lasting memories and an increased awareness and interest of their heritage. Some of the comments from participants reflect the general enthusiasm:

“It was amazing” Katie

“It was the best two weeks of my life” Sam

“The pot making was boring, I liked the whittling best!” Jack

“Can I come again?” Daffyd

“My kids have had the time of their lives, they cannot stop telling us about what they have done and learnt” A parent

And the slightly off the wall “They asked me to sniff poo” Doug.

Lessons learned

  • The project, though successful, was very expensive and unsustainable without funding sources. Charging to take part was an option but with up to five specialists on site, running costs were in the region of £1000 per day so a charging policy would only be a part solution.
    With such positive feedback it was decided to keep the site running by using trained volunteers. A further bid to HLF has resulted in support to train 30 volunteers over a two year period. The volunteers will work alongside the site manager to allow young people access to the site, to work in an entirely practical way and to experience some of the challenges faced by people in the past.

  • Although feedback was very positive it was hard work engaging some of the young people. Skilled negotiation, patience and stamina were required. As a holiday activity all young people were there for free and some were there simply as an easy option either for themselves or for their parents. Comments such as ‘This is my holiday so I don’t have to do it’, were common and particularly frustrating for staff. Is there more commitment if there is a charging policy, no matter how small? Some organisations take this view and claim this improves attendance and participation levels – we didn’t have problems with attendance; they were there every day - discuss.

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