From Wincobank to Caerau – with love

Read a blog from Sheffield resident Penny, who also lives near an ‘urban’ hillfort like Caerau…

Wow! I’ve been following you all on Facebook and reading the brilliant blog.  In the end I just couldn’t stay away so I packed my camera and my notebook, jumped in my little black car and drove all the way from Yorkshire across the border to Cardiff.  It only took four hours – not the four weeks that it maybe took 2,000 or so years ago when Wincobank and Caerau were both busy hillforts.   Now I’m back home and after two days at the Caerau dig my mind is a whirl.  I didn’t have to get down on hand and knees to do my digging – I was delving into the lively minds of the people touched by this life-changing project.  And why?  Because here in Sheffield we have been fighting to keep the builders from covering any more of Wincobank Hill in concrete.  We share the Caerau vision that one day soon our hillfort will be recognised as a jewel of our city, a heritage site of national importance and a fabulous asset of benefit to all.


I’m no archaeologist.  I‘m just a teacher and community project manager who is fascinated with history.  We have a project or two going on here although it’s all got a but complicated.  I came to Caerau for a reality check and to learn.  It’s easy to feel inspired and have ideas, but not so easy to turn the vision into reality.


Immediately I was struck by the energy of Olly and Dave and their conviction that the value of the hillfort does not lie in the archaeology alone, but in its potential to capture the imagination  and bring together so many different people of all ages and interests.  And everyone was so friendly and eager to tell me about what they were doing!  Volunteers on the site were busy digging, or sieving but were still keen to tell me about their archaeology evening classes, the amazing hog roast and the stunning mural project.  I was taken on a tour of the little ruined church and overgrown graveyard nestled in the corner of the site and I could understand exactly why local people care so much about it.  The silent stones hold countless memories – the sad, glad and even the bad stories.  That’s heritage.


I was particularly interested to find out how the local schools have been involved in the unfolding story.   A class from a local primary school was on site for an afternoon visit and the children were awestruck handling mystery objects that were more than 2,000 years old.  The teacher with them confessed to not having known that the hillfort was there and said how pleased they were to have been invited to see the dig.

The staff at nearby Glyn Derw High School were full of praise for the efficient organisation and good communication between the university and school and commented on the very positive impact of this partnership. They talked of shy young people gaining confidence, lively students settling down, parents turning up to a weekend dig in droves including some who hadn’t enjoyed school much themselves but who have now  developed a passion for archaeology and history.  I was amazed to see the many trays of fragments in the “finds room” at the school. Pupils and university students have worked side by side to wash and sort the finds and it was extraordinary to see the photos of the recently recovered  brightly patterned brooch and clay bead casually pinned on the art room notice board.  What an amazing experience for these young people to literally have so much history at their fingertips.


The great thing about this project is the quality of the project management and the very strong team spirit. The trail kept leading back to Dave. Just about everyone said “Haven’t you spoken to Dave yet” so eventually I tracked him down in his paint spattered clothes fresh from another of his 26 Communities First projects.  What a great guy.  And what a committed Communities First team to have had the foresight to form ACE (Action Caerau & Ely) to ensure that the great work continues.  Everybody is playing a part and everyone is pulling their weight. That is the kind of team work that will let us get our project moving.

My final accolade has to go to the amazing archaeology students, carefully and patiently scraping the hard dry mud away in the baking sun.  Some were working on the same dusty hole for the whole two days and were still smiling and happy to talk enthusiastically to visitors, explaining what they were doing, what they had found and what it all might mean.

Thanks to all for making time to talk to me. This brilliant project truly has something for everyone and there is so much more to come.   And here in Sheffield ,Wincobank Hillfort has its own secrets  waiting to be discovered.  Take a look and see what you think – then come and see us soon –

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