Telling the Stories of the Elan Valley and Rhayader
By Stephanie Kruse, Cultural Heritage Officer
Elan Links is an innovative Heritage Lottery and partner funded scheme investing nearly £3.4million into the Elan Valley near Rhayader in Powys, Wales. Elan Valley is a very special place with an unique landscape, story and history stretching back over 4,000 years. 26 projects will be delivered between 2018 and 2023 under three themes:
- Celebrating heritage: protecting and historic sites, improving visitors access and archiving people’s histories and stories
- Enjoying Elan: improving opportunities for new and existing visitors and increasing training opportunities.
- Enhancing nature and wildlife: protecting natural habitats
My project - People to Collections - aims to protect, record and celebrate all aspects of Elan’s heritage including local natural heritage and traditional farming systems; its built and ancient heritage and its cultural heritage (including our links with Birmingham). We are doing this by safeguarding people’s memories, stories, documents and artefacts and by creating a digital archive which will be made accessible for a wide audience.
My work is achieved by engaging with the community, talking to local people and working with volunteers recording memories, stories and thoughts about the area, collecting and cataloguing documents, maps and artefacts, and by organising events, talks and exhibitions which celebrate and raise awareness of this very special place.
Recording memories is a very easy way of making sure the stories of the people of the area are heard and, more importantly, that the stories are heard in their own voices. These recordings give an invaluable insight into life in the Elan Valley and Rhayader and will be preserved for posterity and future generations.
I set up a Local History Group and hearing the amazing stories which members of the group have shared has been one of the highlights of my job. The history of this area is fascinating and when the group meet (usually monthly in non-Covid times) we cover a wide range of topics; members also bring in items and artefacts that they have collected or which have been passed down through their families. We can talk for hours!
Volunteers have been absolutely key to the success of the Elan Links scheme and have assisted not only in the cultural heritage element of the project - recording and transcribing oral histories, cataloguing, scanning and digitising materials, doing research for a town trail, creating and running exhibitions and events and creating online collections to name but a few - but also in the natural heritage survey work of local bird populations, plant identification in hay meadows, interpretation and signage, woodland skills and, hopefully, in the near future helping with infrastructure surveys, light trail and sign maintenance, and route marking and, of course, archiving. One of the great benefits of volunteering with Elan Links is that training is provided in many areas of expertise and in the use of different equipment which can be helpful to individuals going forward. If anyone is interested in volunteering with us please do get in touch email@example.com
Our new archivist Matt has begun the audit of the items and artefacts held by the key partners – Elan Valley Trust, Welsh Water and CARAD - and has already discovered many items of interest including the original plans for each of the dams and the original designs for all the roads, railways and houses on the Elan estate. With an estimated 5,000 plus items to assess and catalogue in a variety of different locations and under different ownership, he has had to hit the ground running. As soon as Covid restrictions allow we are hoping volunteers will be able to help Matt with this mammoth task and document this important part of Elan Valley and Rhayader’s story. The archive will be made accessible to benefit as wide as audience as possible to enable a full appreciation of the area
As with any short term project there have been ups and downs along the way (Covid-19 has really struck us hard with the oral history recordings and our events and exhibitions) but we hope that by the time Elan Links closes its doors in 2023 the People to Collections element will have created a lasting legacy which will provide additional insight into the people and stories of this beautiful area, how it has been shaped and developed from prehistoric times by residents and visitors. This will be through an online, accessible archive as well as by the ongoing work of our amazing volunteers collecting memories and stories, continuing the archive work to preserve artefacts, and sharing the knowledge collected via exhibitions, events and publications.
Website address Elan Links: People, Nature, Water | Elan Valley
Facebook page Elan Links: People, Nature, Water | Elan Valley
For further information please contact Stephanie Kruse Cultural Heritage Officer 07931 2878754 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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