13th Report - Lessons from the First World War Centenary Contents

5Lasting connections

45.While Sir Anthony Seldon described 14–18 NOW as a “come and go” organisation that wasn’t aiming to leave a “physical legacy”,93 it is clear that the programme developed some ongoing connections. Heritage and arts organisations that worked together during the national 14–18 NOW programme have subsequently collaborated on other projects.94 The evidence that we received also demonstrates ongoing connections at a local level between both civil society organisations and individuals in their local communities. Ros Kerslake described projects as having “an intangible legacy” in their impact on local communities.95

46.Crewkerne and District Museum and Heritage Centre told us that their commemoration project has generated “meaningful experiences for the young people particularly and other residents of the town”,96 while Friends of Bramley War Memorial said the project “had an immense impact on our community with a sense of pride and respect which has truly embraced the community spirit”.97 Bottesford Community Heritage Group described involvement in their project as “life changing” for some of the volunteers98 and Ivybridge Community Arts said their experience was “unforgettable”.99 Collingham Music Association summed up the social capital that has been generated by the commemorations: “feedback was very positive with people saying that they had met and chatted with their neighbours, perhaps for the first time since they moved to the village, because of shared interest aroused by the history of the area”.100

47.Ros Kerslake noted that many of the volunteers who have taken part in the centenary projects funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund have participated for the first time. She commented “once you have that energy and enthusiasm built up, I think we will see a lasting legacy from it.”101 The evidence that we received confirms that not only were volunteers critical to the delivery of many projects, but many of them were inspired to join because of their desire to learn more about the First World War. At a national level, 14–18 NOW reported that 6,400 volunteers gave 136,000 hours of their time,102 and the National Lottery Heritage Fund stated that 26,000 volunteers have given 241,000 days of their time.103

48.Perhaps the most important connection made by the commemorations is the extent to which they “connected the souls of those who were then with the hearts of those who are now”.104 Researchers at the Universities of Essex and Exeter found that the We’re Here Because We’re Here and Poppies commissions “were mentioned again and again as events that had stuck in people’s minds and engaged them emotionally with the centenary”105 and that this emotional engagement inspired further participation. Similarly, Sefton Library Service were successful in eliciting an emotional response to their Last Post project sending out information about individuals who lost their lives during the war to their last known address. One recipient commented:

I didn’t expect this and was very surprised. Also felt very sad. To think a young man left his home, now my home, never to return. You have brought Charles Williams back to life. He is now my soldier. I will keep and treasure this. Thank you for your research, I am overwhelmed.106

49.Rt Hon Dr Murrison MP also commented on the success of the commemorations in creating an enduring emotional connection to the war: “it is very often those grainy sepia photographs that really catch their imagination rather than historians talking about grand strategy and battles. They may come to that eventually and I hope they do, but you have to hook them somehow and it does seem to me that it is names on those memorials, the intensely personal part of this history, that really engages folk.”107

50.We were told that the Arts and Humanities Research Council funded five First World War Engagement Centres to support a wide range of community activities across the UK during the centenary period. The aim of the centres was to connect academic and public histories of the First World War.108 However, some of the evidence that we received suggests that more could have been done to support an ongoing academic legacy. Bucks Military Museum Trust noted that there was little new historic interpretation outside of the work generated by the Engagement Centres.109 Academics leading on assessing the role of the Engagement Centres note that “while vital local connections have been made between university based researchers and community based history and heritage groups, it may in practice prove difficult to continue these beyond the life of the individual projects and especially once funding for the five Engagement Centres ends at the close of 2019 and the time that this has provided for academics to work with these projects also ends”.110

51.Although our inquiry confirmed that the popularity of the centenary commemorations was greater than expected, we are concerned that little attention seems to have been given at the outset to what the legacy of the commemorations would be. The enduring connections that have developed seem to have been more by accident than by design. The DCMS is the governmental lead on civil society and should take the opportunity in future commemorations to proactively inspire, nurture and measure social capital.

52.The DCMS should work in partnership with the National Lottery Heritage Fund and the Arts and Humanities Research Council to assess what measures can be taken to maintain the links made between academic historians and local heritage groups during the centenary, and to foster future engagement in new academic findings and interpretations.

93 Q21

94 Q26, Q67 [Dr Murrison}, 14–18 NOW [WWO073] para 63

95 Q52

96 Crewkerne and District Museum and Heritage Centre [WWO012] Para 5

97 Friends of Bramley War Memorial [WWO15] para 10

98 Bottesford Community Heritage Group [WWO024] para 3

99 Ivybridge Community Arts [WWO03] para 8

100 Collingahm Music Association [WWO031] para 4

101 Q68

102 14–18 NOW [WWO073] para 15

103 National Lottery Heritage Fund [WWO097] para 34

104 Speech by Vikki Heywood, 14–18 NOW conference Now the Future 3rd April 2019

105 Reflections on the Centenary of the First World War: Learning and Legacies for the Future [WWO065] para 2

106 Sefton Library Service [WWO034] para 20

107 Q75

108 First World War Engagement Centres [WWO121] para 1

109 Bucks Military Museum Trust [WWO037] para 5

110 Reflections on the Centenary of the First World War: Learning and Legacies for the Future [WWO065] para 5

Published: 16 July 2019