Unearthing Utopia

Unearthing Utopia workshop at Our Place: Dusty Forge, Ely. Photo © Viv Thomas


In June 2016 CAER Heritage Project lead artist Paul Evans and local film maker Viv Thomas visited the Utopia Fair at Somerset House in London. Presented in partnership with the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the Connected Communities programme, the Utopia Fair showcased the creative outcomes from 25 AHRC-funded projects, including the CAER Model Village Project. All of these projects have worked to bring together local community groups, researchers, activists and artists across the UK to explore how utopian ideals can be used to benefit the environmental and social future of these communities.

Our next door neighbour at the fair was The Middlefield Dig. The Middlefield Dig in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire is part of a project called Middlefield’s Utopia – finding out about the history of the estate with people who live there. The project is organised by Professor Carenza Lewis and Dr Ian Waites at the University of Lincoln. The project team has worked with residents and volunteers in Gainsborough to conduct archaeological excavations on and around the Middlefield estate, to find out about its recent history, and to discover history going further back in time.

During a series of conversations between Paul, Viv and Carenza, it became obvious that these two projects have a lot in common: both projects are based on strong principles of community co-production, both are based within estates that were designed on utopian ‘garden city’ principles (originally developed in Radburn, New Jersey by Clarence Stein and Henry Wright) and above all both Caerau and Ely and Middlefield are wonderful, vibrant communities.

Although separated by a straight line distance of 268.78km or 167.01 miles, the aim of Unearthing Utopia is to create a short film that celebrates the connections between these two projects and between these two sites. In order to create this film we have run two workshops on separate days in Cardiff and Gainsborough – both workshops were devised and led by Paul and have been expertly filmed by Viv.

Gainsborough v* Cardiff

The Cardiff workshop (see photo above) was attended by members of the local community along with Oliver Davis and Kimberley Jones. Carenza travelled down from Lincoln for the day and we all had an amazingly productive time at Our Place: Dusty Forge, sharing stories and working on scripts based on questions that were designed to draw out comparisons between these two remarkably similar projects. These scripts were then used as the basis for a series of informal interviews that were filmed by Viv.

Carenza Lewis discusses finds from the Middlefield Dig with Helen McCarthy from the CAER Heritage Project. Photo © Viv Thomas 2017

Cardiff v* Gainsborough – the return match!

The Gainsborough Workshop was attended by community members from the Middlefield estate along with Carenza Lewis and Ian Waites, an art historian from Lincoln University who grew up on the estate. Viv travelled up from Cardiff to film the event and we were met in Gainsborough by Helen McCarthy, an active member of the CAER Heritage Project team – now well versed in the art of conducting interviews! Paul led a mirror image creative workshop, helping participants to generate scripts in preparation for their filmed interviews, and to take part in mapping/timeline activities that aimed to capture memories of growing up on the estate and their experiences during The Middlefield Dig. It was another remarkable day of sharing experiences and building new friendships!

The film is now in the editing stage and will be ready for viewing some time in the next couple of months – check back soon for an update on this exciting collaborative project.

* visits …


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