The Ossett History Exhibition 2015 was a major cross-community project involving local groups and students in order to bring Ossett together in a celebration of its vivid history and heritage. Here, in commemoration of the second anniversary of the exhibition, Project Manager Charlie Adams overviews the project from its beginning until its conclusion from his perspective.
ACT I: LIGHTING THE FUSE
Ossett Sixth Form College ran an enrichment programme throughout the 2014/15 academic year that was designed to offer opportunities to students to partake in alternative activities on a Wednesday afternoon to develop skills. Having not seen one which I found interesting, I identified an opportunity for students in the Sixth Form to work with the Ossett and Gawthorpe Community Archive, and other community groups, in order to try and promote the heritage and history of our town.
Initially, I produced a proposal document (in consultation with Mike Adams, Curator of the Ossett and Gawthorpe Community Archive) and presented it to Jenny Wildman, the Deputy Director of Ossett Sixth Form College. In our initial meeting she was very enthusiastic about the opportunity and about the idea, and immediately approved the proposal and gave me authorisation to use the enrichment time to pursue the project. I then began engaging with staff and students in order to build interest and get people involved, and built a strong team consisting of supportive and encouraging staff and hard-working and enthusiastic students. We worked under the internal name of the Humanities and Community Development Commission, or HCDC – our objective being to ensure that all guests at the exhibition left… Thunderstruck.
Following these first positive steps, I pitched to Tracy Jackson, Assistant Principal responsible for core services including finance, asking for an investment from the Academy that would provide a budget to fund our project, along with Raj Patel, one of my Deputy Project Managers. The pitch was successful, and in a follow-up meeting the week after I was informed that we had received 100% of what we asked for and the full support of the Senior Leadership Team. At the same time, Mike bid for a small grant from the Wakefield Council Neighbourhood Improvement Fund with support from local councillors that enabled the Archive to buy their own display boards as well as new cameras.
The first few Wednesdays consisted of us having a general planning meeting and setting clear objectives for what we wanted to achieve, and a demonstration of the Archive from Mike in order to understand the historical resource we were dealing with, and what we had available to us. The first phase of the project was to add new material to the Archive, showing Ossett as it was in late 2014. In the first week we took photos in different areas around the town centre, and then in the second week I divided the team into groups which went to different places, taking photos of Ossett around the Academy site and further afield. In the end we took over 500 photos which Josh Taylor, our resident IT expert, added to the Archive system over the course of the following weeks whilst the team was working on other tasks. I also held discussions with Tracy Jackson and we selected Wednesday 25th February 2015 as the date of the exhibition, and the Sixth Form Common Room as the venue.
After these initial stages, I then divided the team and gave each sub-team areas of responsibility that they were to work on. This would only truly apply during the initial stages, as later we would focus our efforts on specific tasks as a group, and tasks would be dictated more by time pressure. It was important that we had a constant stream of communication with the public and thus we took steps to ensure that we communicated the project early on, as well as ask for any photo donations from students, parents and carers who may wish to donate a photo for the Archive that could be used in the exhibition.
As we moved towards the Christmas break, having got the foundations in place, we focused on planning the photographic themes for the exhibition, as well as general details such as catering, venue and a programme of events, whilst maintaining links with key partners. I also deployed a small group of team members to take photos of the Academy site for the Archive. This was all vital ground work for the big push after the Christmas break.
ACT II: FULL STEAM AHEAD
After Christmas we launched fully into making concrete preparations for the upcoming event. Working with David Scriven during our Wednesday afternoon sessions, Oliver began writing short feature articles about different aspects of Ossett, such as the story of Cussons’ Soap, and a history of Ossett Academy. Other team members, notably Joe and Ellis, began working on spending our catering budget, whilst I worked on writing my contributions to the programme, and producing promotional letters that we would send out through Education Ossett Community Trust (EOCT) schools. At this point I also made requests to team members and community volunteers for some items for the programme, as well as organising some of the other items that we would put within the goody bags. On 21st January Lewis Ramsden took group photos including most of the team who worked with us on Wednesdays, including staff, students and some of our community volunteers.
As we approached the end of January, with most of the organisational aspects being in place, and having given instructions to the premises team as to how we wanted the venue to be laid out, the main focus shifted to promotion and fine tuning various aspects of the experience. On the evening of Thursday 22nd January I presented to the Ossett Academy Governors in order to promote the event, and they gave firm support for the project and many of them would later attend the exhibition. The week after, on Wednesday 28th January, we filmed a promotional video with Marc Coyles, where a number of the team spoke about different aspects of the project that they had been working on, and this was promoted on YouTube, Twitter and other social media platforms.
On Wednesday 4th February, I deployed some members of the team into Ossett town centre to give out letters and posters about the event to local businesses and shopkeepers in order to promote the event. At the same time, myself and some other team members focused on the printing and preparation of materials for the event itself, including signs and some items that would go in the goody bags, such as welcome letters amongst other things. It was also around this time that I gave each of the team members a batch of invitation letters that they could personalise and give to people who they wanted to attend the exhibition, and I also wrote a number myself, focusing primarily on Academy staff, and distributed them accordingly.
Wednesday 4th February also saw the first of our promotional assemblies at Ossett Academy that I presented to Year 10. Over the next ten days we would present to all year groups, with different combinations of team members presenting, and this was a direct way to promote the event to students and staff. Flyers were given out to staff at their weekly staff briefing, as well as posters going out to form groups to be put up in classrooms, and letters going out to parents across all EOCT schools. On Friday 6th February, and over the course of the following week, I worked with Marc Coyles to put together the event programme, having received contributions from a number of the project volunteers. These would be put in the goody bags once printed.
On Wednesday 11th February, the final session before the day itself, I put together a ‘goody bags production line’ where team members had one item for the goody bags each, and as a bag was passed down they put the item in the bag, with Oliver then being responsible for quality assurance and ensuring everything that should be in the bag, was in it. At the same time, I deployed a small group to put up posters around the Academy site and ensure maximum exposure to students.
And with that, the group sessions were over and all that was left was the event itself after February half term. Over the half term break I put together some instruction packs for on the day to help ensure that we as a team were organised. On Tuesday 24th February, the day before the exhibition, I presented to the EOCT Student Voice Conference to promote the event to students from across the EOCT schools, and the event t-shirts that all team members would wear at the exhibition, arrived from the supplier, having been designed and ordered by Phil Neath and I just before half term. We were then all set for the big day 24 hours later…
ACT III: THE DAY ITSELF
The day itself was a whirlwind, although an enjoyable one! With all preparations having been put in place, we were waiting until lunchtime for the premises team to take chairs, tables and other pieces of furniture out of the Sixth Form Common Room and for them to then put the display boards in place. Prior to this, I ensured that the catering arrangements were in place, and we were then good to start putting things in place from lunchtime onwards.
I split the team into different sub-teams to tackle different tasks. The primary job was to ensure that the display boards were prepared; we couldn’t really have an exhibition without any exhibits! Therefore, a number of the team worked under Mike and Pat Adams’ supervision to put the display boards together and to ensure that they were correctly laid out and presented. At the same time, whilst the goody bags had already been put together, we had received some additional items, including the event programme, some old postcards that are on the Archive and we had printed on card, and some gingerbread ‘Ossettonians’ that we had bought from Squire’s Family Deli, and all of these items needed putting into the bags. Phil Neath brought along a class of young students, who we put to use in putting together goody bags and in helping put together the display boards – a genius move that saved a lot of time! Alongside this, we needed to put up event signage and information around the venue, and after the end of the school day the premises team moved in to move the classrooms into the configuration that we had requested for the three talks and the two displays. I then ensured that my presentation for the Keynote Address was ready and waiting for when I would open the event at 17:45.
As we got nearer to the 17:30 time for opening the doors, I brought the group together and deployed team members across the Academy site in order to ensure that all visitors could be directed and assisted as much as they needed. I ensured that there were people placed in locations that would enable us to direct people from the entrance and the car park down to the Sixth Form block, and I ensured that people were in position before I would begin my talk, so to ensure that we could continue to direct people in who may arrive after I had begun speaking.
We were expecting a decent crowd, we had been engaging with people on Twitter and other social media prior to the event, but the number of people who were in place for the beginning of my Keynote Address far exceeded our expectations. We estimate that there were at least 150 people in attendance, and the goody bags (of which there were 60) all went before I began speaking, which gives an indication of the number of people who were there (we always aimed for bags to be given out 1 per group/family, not one each if it could be helped!).
Following Oliver’s introduction, I then began my Keynote Address, running through the project and what we had done, and overviewing the event itself for the guests. Once I had completed my talk I introduced Jenny Wildman, who as Deputy Director of Sixth Form with responsibility for enrichment, had been supervising the project since its inception and had constant involvement. She gave the Academy’s perspective, and formally opened the exhibition to guests at 18:00, who were then able to move into the main exhibition space and look around the exhibits and enjoy refreshments.
From 18:30 guests could then enjoy one of three talks. We purposefully scheduled the talks to ensure that they happened three times, and were in three different rooms at the same time, so as to allow guests to rotate between each talk and therefore be able to enjoy them all. The talks were timed for 18:30, 19:00, and 19:30, and were delivered by:
David Scriven, who talked about the big picture; the history of Ossett as a settlement since Roman times. David delivered this talk without notes and without any visual aids – no mean feat… thousands of years of history condensed into a 25 minute talk, without any prompts or script!
Alan Howe and Stephen Wilson, who talked about the contribution that Ossett made to the First World War, and the losses incurred by the town. This talk was accompanied by a first-class PowerPoint presentation.
Mike and Pat Adams, who talked about the Ossett and Gawthorpe Community Archive; what material the Archive covers, upcoming plans, and how people could get involved. The talk was accompanied by display boards and an iPad that enabled guests to scroll through photographs from the Archive.
Aside from the talks and the displays in the main exhibition space, we also had a display of the Archive in one room, run by the capable Josh who was on hand to search for items for people to view, as well as a projection of Civic Years (a film about Mayor, Mrs. H. Crossland and her daughter Mayoress, Mrs. Mordue over her two terms in office) in another of the rooms. We had a wide range of different activities and exhibits for people to enjoy and aimed to offer as diverse an experience as possible.
Once most guests were in talks, this gave the project team a bit of time to catch their breath, but not for long! We put the half of the Common Room which had been in use for the Keynote Address back into its usual configuration (sofas and comfy stools) so that guests could relax there if they wanted. As we approached the end of the event, with guests starting to leave, we began to move some of the displays into convenient positions to be dismantled the following day, so that we could then keep the photographs. Then, as the clock struck 20:00, the exhibition closed, and the exhibition of Ossett’s history was forever consigned to… history.
We enjoyed great feedback about all aspects of the exhibition, from the professional talks given by David, Alan, Stephen, Mike and Pat, to the displays themselves and the organisation of the project team. The exhibition has helped pave the way for further collaboration between the Archive and other groups in Ossett.
I was very kindly awarded the Contribution to Community award at the Ossett Sixth Form College stand down ceremony in May 2015, and the Contribution to School Life at Ossett Academy Presentation Evening in November 2015 in recognition for the exhibition.
Above all, we raised the profile of Ossett, community groups and brought the history of Ossett to a mass audience, and that is exactly what we sought to achieve!
THE INEVITABLE OSCARS SPEECH (BUT NO TEARS, I PROMISE)
Of course, as with any project and achievement of this scale, it is important to recognise the contributions of each and every person who was involved, and I would like to take the time and space to thank the project team, which was so vital in making this project a success. Each and every person who worked with me on the project was integral to its success and played a critical role in what we as a group achieved.
Firstly, I want to thank my three capable Deputy Project Managers, Raj Patel, Oliver Salisbury and Joe Saville. All three of these provided me with immense support and were great sounding boards for ideas and plans, and were critical to the operational organisation of the team, on the days that we were doing preparatory work, and on the day itself. Without their commitment and ability to execute our plans in a confident way, and without their steady leadership, we wouldn’t have been so organised and we wouldn’t have been able to achieve what we did. Thank you.
Secondly, each of the Assistant Project Managers who supported myself and the DPMs deserve a huge amount of recognition. These six people all carried out their duties to perfection, and did a lot of the ground work that enabled us to have such a successful event. Everything that they did was key to our success, and without their involvement our task would have been much harder, if not impossible. I appreciate their patience, and that of the DPMs, with what must have seemed like incessant instructions from me! Amy Fletcher, Abbie Hyde, Ellis Ingham, Molly Johnson, Aidan Stephenson and Josh Taylor, thank you all.
Next, our community team was so vital to our success. These people were the cornerstones of the exhibition, and were the critical links to the community and being able to showcase its history. At the forefront of this was Mike Adams, the Curator of the Ossett and Gawthorpe Community Archive and Associate Project Manager, and he was supported by Pat Adams (Secretary, Friends of Ossett Library), Alan Howe (Historian and Ossett.net contributor), David Scriven (Secretary, Ossett Historical Society) and Stephen Wilson (Ossett.net founder). Without these people we could not have achieved what we did – the historical knowledge and material provided by these individuals formed the very basis of our exhibition, and their links to the community made engaging with the people of Ossett so much easier. Thank you.
In addition, the team that worked with us from Ossett Academy were so very important, and gave us the room and the time with which to develop our project. Bethan Batty, the Head of Geography and Associate Project Manager, was a bedrock of support and vital to enabling the team and I to work. In addition, Rachel Brailsford (Sixth Form Achievement Officer), Edward Brindley (Teacher of Geography), Marc Coyles (Post 16 Data and Digital Media Manager), Wendy Foster (Teacher of History), Mike Lewis (Teacher of History), Phil Neath (Cover Supervisor), Adam Otway (Head of History) and Jenny Wildman (Deputy Director of Sixth Form) supported the project from start to finish, and gave us resources and support with which to make it happen. I’d like to also thank Martin Shevill (Principal until December 2014), Neil Stott (Acting Principal from January 2015), Tracy Jackson (Assistant Principal) and Sarah Haigh (EOCT Coordinator) for giving us their unwavering support, which made everything a lot easier. Thank you all.
Finally, I would like to thank a few partners that helped us with the experience and the recording of the event. Lewis Ramsden, a skilled and proficient photographer, provided his services in photographing the event. Ross Bennett and his team at Engaging Education filmed the event and made sure we had a highlights video. Last but not least, Kadoberry Creations produced the bags for the event goody bags and bookmarks, which helped to take the experience to the next level. I also thank the helpers from the Academy who supported different aspects of the event, including Arran Williamson and Abbey Harrison, who were crucial to helping it run smoothly.
Working with such a diverse group of people was an incredible experience, and shows what we can do as a community when we all come together. The students are the most inspiring people I have had the pleasure of working with, and I know they will go far with whatever they choose to do in the future. Working with such knowledgeable people from the community was one of the best experiences of my time in education, and showed me what a fantastic community we have in Ossett. I hope that one of the main legacies of the exhibition will be that we work together and collaborate in the future in order to create experiences of the past and memories of the future for the people of Ossett.
Two years on, I am still proud of what we achieved, and so should everyone else who was involved. Thank you for making it happen, and thank you for an incredible experience.