In October 2014 the Natural History Society of Northumbria began a 3-year project designed to significantly improve access to our important archive collection and engage young people in natural history and environmental recording through our archive and its stories. Funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, with additional support from the Sir James Knott Trust, this project involved the appointment of June Holmes to the post of Archivist, with responsibility for all professional activities relating to the documentation, preservation, promotion and use of the Society’s archive collection, as well as running of events aimed at engaging and enthusing young people. Among these events, opportunities were provided, in coordination with Children North East (CNE), to give young people the opportunity to experience wildlife first hand: from small mammal trapping at Gosforth Park Nature Reserve to Puffin spotting at the Farne Islands, and even expeditions into the depths of our very own archive in between. Indeed, one of the great successes of the project has been the welcoming of over 322 children and young people to our archive based in the library at the Great North Museum: Hancock – they all enjoyed an in-depth insight into the way past generations of naturalists recorded their wildlife sightings. Of the feedback gained over the course of the project, many children highlighted their enjoyment of field-based activities and educational talks, with one student writing:
I enjoyed making friends and also learning new things about the local past. I found the historical talks very interesting, especially learning about the past of forests and woods in the area. I have realised that it is important to keep a journal of the nature I see around me (by drawing it) and have been inspired by what I have learned.
On the subject of youth engagement, Director Clare Freeman writes:
I have found these summer field visits with teenagers really inspiring – they had some great questions and really got me thinking about our local wildlife and the impact all our lives have on the local landscape and wildlife – it was certainly an exciting learning opportunity for us all. Early NHSN members built ‘the Hancock Museum’ in the 19th century and were keen that as many people in Newcastle were inspired by the natural world and museum collections. It has been wonderful to continue this approach and we are planning to do more in the future’.
In addition to young peoples activities the project has also seen June and her band of archive volunteers successfully digitise a large selection of NHSN’s archive material, making images of historic items – from portraits to botanical watercolours – freely available online and they have contributed a wealth of new content to our website; while archive volunteer Sarah Seeley has continued to contribute social media posts highlighting the archives value, including for national awareness weeks. As NHSN’s new administrative assistant, Sarah will continue to promote the archive alongside communications officer, James Common, over the weeks and months to come. While June’s initial tenure with the society has now, unfortunately, come to an end, we are thrilled to announce that from June 2018 she will be resuming her role as archivist until the end of the current HLF funded ‘Towards 2029’ project.