June 2015: Town Museum Evaluation and Feedback

Students, Berkeley Castle and community participants provided feedback that demonstrate a measurable effect on their archaeological learning and level of engagement. All feedback was reviewed and reflected on by the Engagement Team and its coordinator (me!). Key lessons learned included:

  • Placing trust in both students and community develops better relationships between stakeholders
  • Within a supervised and supportive framework, students can take creative charge of managing a project effectively to produce impressive and professional results
  • Inviting community participation in both private and commercial venues leads to better engagement

It has also been importance to us to respond to what the community wants. The project emerged from community comments that they can’t always attend our public talks and free tours. By bringing the archaeology to them, we creatively deliver engagement that suits them, in a way that is feasible for us.

Second-year student, and mini-project manager, Rebecca Saunders writes:

… it’s been a lot of work but really rewarding. It’s been great to put into action some of the things that I’ve learned in the lecture hall about public engagement. I was given space to be creative in designing how the trays and the posters looked. I really appreciated the fact that my vision came to light and it has been so inspiring for me as a student to see this project from its first days to where we are now. It really gives me hope for what I can achieve once I’ve graduated. I’m really passionate about people engaging with archaeology, especially here, because residents can be curious about what we’re finding. One of the most common questions I got asked by locals was ‘are you finding anything good?’ This is why I think the Town Museum project is a fantastic idea not just in terms of engagement with the community but also as a project that is student led.

Local resident Chris Stokes says:

Previously … you’d be there for a few weeks and then you’d go away, job done and we didn’t know much more than that. [Now I feel] absolutely more connected. One of the main reasons [to be involved is that] I live locally to where you’ve been digging and it’s just interesting to know what you guys are up to up there. And to be part of displaying some of the artefacts that you’ve been finding I think is good for the local people to know about it, and to be involved as a local person in supporting what you’re doing up there.

Local business owner, Rose, from La Lune Art Gallery and Shop says:

It’s nice to bring something different to Berkeley, with the history of Berkeley and the castle, it’s definitely good…This is nice because it involves everybody, different businesses, all together.

Statement from our heritage stakeholder, Berkeley Castle:

We are delighted that the University of Bristol has engaged with the residents of Berkeley to set up the Town Museum Project this year. It’s wonderful that the students have had such a good response from those living in the town of Berkeley and it’s very reassuring that so many locals were keen to get involved.

We always look forward to welcoming the team back from the University each year and to seeing a new group of students, they are always a pleasure to have around. It’s very exciting when the students excavate new areas, their discoveries tell us more and more about the history of Berkeley and of course, the Castle itself!

It’s also a great added attraction for our visitors, we really appreciate that the University team are happy to provide guided tours of the excavation area and its associated finds, to those who are interested in finding out more about the site.

Formal feedback forms were provided to the twenty local participants. Of the 18 collected responses, 100% said they enjoyed it, 100% said they would do it again, 100% would recommend it to others, and 100% said they learned more about archaeology because of it. Likewise, the positive response from our students was overwhelming and they really loved getting involved. They also identified a wide range of skills developed just on this aspect of engagement at Berkeley (based on 6 responses from those most involved in the Town Museum project):

  • Critical Thinking  50%
  • Teamworking  100%
  • Career Networking  66.7%
  • Public Engagement  100%
  • Adaptability  83.3%
  • Project Management  33.3%
  • Independence  66.7%
  • Creativity  83.3%
  • Marketing & Social Media Expertise  50%
  • Improved Confidence  100%
  • Improved Professionalism  66.7%
  • Transferable Skills  83.3%


The students responded 100% positively (yes) to the following questions too:

  • Do you think the skills encountered on this project will help your future career prospects?
  • Do you plan to include this experience on your CV and in interviews?
  • Did you enjoy engaging with the local community?
  • If you had the opportunity, would you partake in a similar engagement effort again?
  • Would you recommend this experience to other students?

Further evaluation of the responses is underway and there are lots of plans to further develop engagement at Berkeley in the 2016 season!

Contact: Aisling Tierney a.tierney@bristol.ac.uk

www.facebook.com/digberkley ¦ www.twitter.com/digberkeley ¦ www.instagram.com/digberkeley


June 2015: Aisling Tierney, archaeologist

The Berkeley Castle Project

For the last few years, I have been involved with the Berkeley Castle Project run by the University of Bristol. My role started as a student and evolved to Coordinator of the Social Media project as of 2013.  The idea behind working on social media was to showcase the amazing work that our Bristol students undertake every summer as part of their undergraduate programmes and the incredible research by academics. An average day sees at least 50 students on site and there is an fantastic buzz in the air, full of excitement at the thought of new discoveries and lots of enthusiasm from those who understand it as a valuable learning experience that they can take with them into their careers.

Public Engagement – social media

2013’s Social Media project was a real success, reaching a vast worldwide audience (Find out more here: facebook.com/DigBerkeley). It also allowed the students to develop great transferable skills on professional practice and public engagement. All sounds great, right? But there was one element missing for me – engagement with the local community. We have a great relationship with the main tourist attractions of the Jenner Museum and Gardens and Berkeley Castle, and St. Mary’s Parish. The local community were offered free tours and talks every season. In my view, however, this placed them as passive recipients of knowledge and offered no obvious route for them to share their views.

Community Engagement – first steps

By a fantastic turn of luck, the University of Bristol started the Green Apple Scheme that supports projects that relate to Education for Sustainable Development (ESD), which can include community engagement. I saw this as a great opportunity to get some much needed funding to engage with the public and provide relevant archaeological outputs while introducing students to wider concepts of ESD. The community were invited to a student-designed student-led workshop where they discussed issues including: communication and engagement; community representation; and environment and social sustainability. Students then reviewed the responses and created an in situ exhibition in the three sites of excavation (the Castle, the Jenner Museum, St. Mary’s Church) and also posted materials in the local community library – all in time for the Festival of Archaeology. (You can read the full report of the project here: Link).

All ages were represented at the community engagement event

All ages were represented at the community engagement event

How I want to engage with the public

Part of the problem with local community engagement is that the community needs to come to us. As we only run the excavation on weekdays, many nine-to-five workers just can’t get involved. And even if people are free, we can’t always allow them on site due to weather, available supervisors, etc.

What would happen if the archaeology was brought to them instead?

Our main excavation trench in Nelme’s Paddock faces a narrow street of house built right onto the footpath. Flower pots, cats, and lacy curtains decorate the windows, but these could be supplanted (on a temporary basis) with real archaeological artefacts excavated just across the road. Imagine the feeling of having temporary curatorship of such finds in your own home, sharing the stories of these finds with your friends, neighbours and family. Perhaps each house could host a different artefact type, from ceramics, to animal bones, to shards of glass, with a little explanation alongside. This could even expand to shop window displays in local businesses.

Creating a temporary town-museum could help ensure that the community is included in the archaeological project and invite further participation and a sense of ownership over their own heritage.


The project could also sit within next year’s plans for the Festival of Archaeology and Berkeley Castle‘s socio-historic heritage trails. Combining efforts and joining forces will mean that there is a better public offering, better engagement, and a better sense of community involvement.