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  • Survive half-term with these historical tips to keep your kids occupied!

    Argh!!! It’s only the second day of half-term. You’ve braved the snot and germ filled play centre, the plans for a healthy and active week have been kicked into touch by the good old British weather and despite the best intentions, your little ones are currently dividing their time between the Sky remote and competing over who can make your iPad screen the filthiest.

    Well fear not, we have some examples from history of how children occupied their boredom. It’s well worth reading this little list to the kids, to remind them to play nice!

    Oh, and a word of warning for those who take everything they read on the internet literally - we aren't suggesting you actually DO any of these things with your children!!

    Get married

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    In the past, marriages were as much about political or economic alliances as they were about love and romance, particularly when it concerned the children of powerful rulers. Richard, Duke of York was just 4 years old when he married the 6 year old Countess of Norfolk!

     

    Fight in a war

    Cardboard Crafts 038

    Children in the Greek state of Sparta began military training at seven years old!! Amongst the skills they needed to learn were pain tolerance, cunning and thieving, extreme hunger and bizarrely dancing.

    Get a job!

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    Whilst there are thousands of ‘children’ who still borrow the odd tenner off their mum well into their 30s, it was pretty standard practice for all but wealthy children to be earning their keep as soon as they were able to. Jobs varied depending upon the time period, but being small and agile has its advantages, so you could find yourself down a mine-shaft, up a chimney or crawling through 19th century milling machines (death traps!) to retrieve a bobbin.

    Interestingly, there is a suggestion that prehistoric flint tools may well have been made by children rather than adults, as their smaller hands could have had their advantages.

    Have a beer

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    Yes, believe it or not, beer was a staple part of many children’s diet in Early Medieval Britain. Whilst it would not be a strong brew (it was often known as small-beer) it would have been safer to drink than water in urban areas where poor quality water could make you very ill.

    Whipping Boy

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    This would be the play mate of an important child who would take on punishment when the said child was naughty. When he was growing up, Henry VIII had a friend of the same age who he would play with. However, it would be unheard of to punish or spank a future king, so every time Henry was naughty, his play-mate would take the beating on his behalf! It wasn’t all bad though, King Charles I made his whipping boy an Earl!

    Play with toys!

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    It wasn’t all bad! Toys have been a staple part of childhood for millennia, and a child’s imagination is as powerful today as it ever has been. Whilst people moan about the impact of TV and iPads on kids, give them time, space and a few props (a stick can be a thing of wonder!!) and they’ll soon create their own fun! Why not replace their x-box with a stick this Christmas, I’m sure you’ll be hugely popular!!

     

    In fact, Big Heritage run a hugely successful ‘Toys Through Time’ workshop in primary schools, where our education team bring out boxes of toys ranging from ancient Rome through to the 1990s. We find the children tend to shun the Gameboy and Atari and head straight to the cup and ball, spinning tops and Jacob’s Ladders!

  • New school delivery staff required

    We're expanding our delivery into schools over the next 12 months, and will therefore be adding to our school team before September.

    This will be a part-time post for the first 6 months with an option to expand to full time. Salary based upon experience but exceeding the living wage. The successful applicant will be a great communicator of history, and doesn't necessarily have to have history/archaeology academic qualifications (though it would be an advantage). You'll have had experience in delivering sessions to children in schools/museums/galleries etc and be a generally all-round awesome person who understands the balance of working hard and having a laugh in a work environment. 

    To register an interest, please send a CV to enquiries@bigheritage.co.uk  - we will not be taking phone enquiries about this position at this time.

    Just a few notes:

    • This is a position working with children, if you're not a fan of kids (or they're not a fan of you!) then it's wise to give this one a miss.
    • You'll need to be able to drive (or be driving by September!!) - own vehicle not essential.
    • You'll be required to have yearly Enhanced Disclosure & Barring Service checks.
    • Candidates with interest/experience in later historical periods are encouraged to apply (Victorian, WW1, WW2, etc)
    • You will be delivering multi-period workshops, and whilst all of our current staff have their own personal research interests, we all have a broad understanding of British history (and prehistory!) and you'll be required to have the same.
    • We're a family-friendly company  and there's a possibility for this position to work around childcare commitments if you're the best.
    • A knowledge of Merseyside and/or Cheshire would be an advantage.
    • Try and get a 'feel' of how Big Heritage operate and make sure you are comfortable with our values of People, Past and Planet.
  • Social Value and Archaeology

    Social Value Act and Archaeology

    a ramble through it's potential by @dapaton 

     

    Outside of the world of Social Enterprise (of which BH are one) most people have not heard of the Social Value Act which was passed in 2012 but has yet to really kick off in any significant way; and,  like many legal changes, everyone concerned is holding their collective breath for a test case which defines what clout it actually has. In essence, the act means that companies who have been procured using public money must demonstrate their social and/or environmental impact, or rather it requires the public body with the purse strings to consider how they are able to improve the social impact of their public service contracts before they start the procurement process.

    Specifically the Social Value Act states that public bodies must consider:

    (a) how what is proposed to be procured might improve the economic, social and environmental well-being of the relevant area, and
    (b) how, in conducting the process of procurement, it might act with a view to securing that improvement.

    Crucially, social impact can weigh against cost, meaning that it's not necessarily the cheapest offer that should be chosen (relevant to the HLF discussion later!). A crude example of enforcing 'value' would be the demonstration of environmental care, apprenticeships, reducing anti-social behaviour, investment in local amenities etc before being given a social housing contract. This is in an ideal world however, and whilst it's still very early days, some have argued that the  wording of the act is somewhat non-committal, lacking in teeth and needing greater clarification in order to be effective.

    So, what does this all mean for archaeology?

    Well, potentially a lot given enough time.

    First off, there are plenty of large archaeological firms who owe much of their income to public monies. Since 1990 over 90% of archaeological work in the UK has taken place within the commercial archaeological sector, mostly as part of the planning and development process (Fulford 2010, 33 as cited in L. Richardson forthcoming). They should now (in theory) be required to demonstrate the further benefits that would come from awarding them contracts above competitors which could involve education initiatives, pro-bono preservation or having a stronger community element to their work.

    The SVA potentially creates an opportunity for smaller soically-focussed archaeologists to tender for contracts against the big guns on the assumption that they can demonstrate a stronger pound-for-pound social impact. To counter this, the big firms are going to have to raise their game in terms of justifying, and demonstrating their social impact.

    This is the tip of the iceberg in reality though, as archaeological firms are small fish in a massive ocean of public funding, particularly around construction, public maintenance and energy firms which all have an impact both upon communities and the historic environment. HS2 alone is estimated to cost anywhere between £40bn and £80bn, which is a phenomenal amount of public spend that should have demonstrable secondary social benefits. It's because of these huge numbers that the heritage world should now be carefully examining new construction contracts dished out of the public purse, as there is strong cause for arguing large companies could be investing time and money in to heritage projects in order to increase the social and environmental well-being of the communities they are working in and thus demonstrate their own social value.

    This next 12 months is likely to see a few very public challenges to procurement, which will be led from the front by the UK's growing Social Enterprise sector. As someone who was fortunate enough to have been invited on the 2013 School of Social Entrepreneurs and a member of the Social Enterprise Network, I've been privy to a number of new initiatives that demonstrate that social enterprises are being taken seriously in the attempt to rebuild the economy on more stable ground, and will only grow more rapidly under a Labour government. Currently, a number of strong and well funded organisations are supporting the growth of SEs in the UK, and are able to support any legal challenges that may arise to ensure the SVA is fully entrenched, so we're potentially about to sail into uncharted waters.

    In terms of public monies and heritage though, the obvious elephant in the room is the Heritage Lottery Fund, which distributed £411.8million in the last twelve months alone - that's close to half a billion pounds of public funding which by the letter of the new law should come under the same scrutiny as any other public spending in terms of social value. Whilst a raft of HLF money is focussed upon smaller-scale local projects with immediately obvious social benefits, a large proportion of total HLF spend necessarily ends up in the coffers of large construction firms, consultants, legal firms, insurance companies, etc. that have no obvious vested interest in the upkeep of heritage. HLF now have the potential to widen their already huge positive impact upon heritage by requiring companies receiving large amounts of their cash to demonstrate their social impact as part of the tendering process. Companies that have demonstrable environmental policies, invest in the communities they work in or donate company time/resources to good causes (heritage perhaps?) would have a distinct, and technically legally supported advantage over competitors when all other things are equal. Let's see what the future brings.

    As a final note...what are Big Heritage doing?

    Big Heritage has always been an experiment as much as it is a company. It's evolved over the last few years to utilise heritage in all forms to (amongst other things) raise educational aspirations in socio-economically deprived areas and provide inspiration for affecting positive social and environmental change in many arenas. This was recognised in 2013 with us receiving a Social Impact Award for our environmentally-themed ecoVikings project amongst a plethora of other shiny awards recognising our success. In fact; for us, heritage actually comes third in our company priorities behind people and planet - we see the past as a tool for change as much as something to preserve. This probably sounds like archaeological anathema to most, but that's just the way we roll!

    That's not to say we're not every bit as committed to heritage as anyone else - we delivered heritage-themed events and educational workshops to around 40,000 people in 2013 and we're currently working on a number of projects across the UK that are raising awareness of neglected heritage sites whilst working behind the scenes locally to help remove an important Scheduled Ancient Monument off the EH 'at risk' register. But it's our social projects that really get us out of bed - and 2014 is going to see us partnering with Can Cook to explore food poverty, challenging attitudes to immigration with MD Productions and (hot off the press!) working with Heart Research UK to use archaeology as a tool to communicate diet and exercise in the past.

    So for us, our social 'bottom line' is in a much stronger position than many larger archaeological firms with our expertise and experience rapidly catching up as we strengthen our skill-sets through new posts. We therefore feel well placed to begin growing a commercial archaeology arm to Big Heritage towards the end of 2014, being competitive in terms of cost and quality, but having the Social Value Act as a 'trump card' to wave in the faces of public purse-holders - i.e. paying for that watching brief is going some way to provide educational opportunities for children or allowing us to do more pro-bono LIDAR! Liverpool Council have already begun to entrench the act into their procurement process, and many more seem likely to follow suit.

    Whilst not exactly light at the end of the tunnel, the Social Value Act represents a potential candle flickering in the dark of heritage cuts and a potential means of diverting some public funds out of privatised hands and back into communities.

  • Why we will be supporting Chester Pride again in 2014

    Why we will be supporting Chester Pride again in 2014

    I've felt the need to write a blog on an incident from our end of work Christmas drinks last night in Chester.

    After hitting the beers early, it ended up being three lads on a session starting at the lovely (but chocker!) Harkers Arms then wombling along City Road trying out more pubs on the way. One particular bar (which I wont name as it's irrelevant and could needlessly harm their reputation) took our fancy due to it's cracking range of Belgian ales and we were soon perched on stools around a antique wine barrel converted into a table, drenched in flickering candle light. Such a refined arena somewhat blemished by our crass piss-taking of each other as drunk male friends feel such need to do!

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    One of our cohort finally opened up his moth-bitten wallet and went to get the next round in, leaving myself and another team member (who happens to be gay) to talk about the World War I project he had been working on that day for us. Our chat was interrupted by an obviously inebriated but perfectly coherent individual who flopped a loose-wrist gesture at us both and asked us whether we were having a lovely romantic time - an off the cuff gesture seemingly inspired by two blokes sitting on a table that had a candle on it. Genius.

    My pal rolled his eyes, and I decided to reply "yes, thanks" which seemed to trigger some deep unseated response from the very depths of this bloke's cortex which may have been influenced by the fact that he was wearing an overly tight and thin t-shirt in the middle of December (come on mate, it doesn't take a gay person to work out fatties should lay off tightey whities) or more likely ten pints of what my mates at the match affectionately refer to as 'council lager' - anything that's around 4%, fizzy and largely shit.

    So, with my comment the red rag to this anthropomorphic bovinae (boom, you can have that insult) - we were now joined at our table to face questions such as "how often do you do it?" or "which one goes on top?" or perhaps my personal favourite "Do you take it up the shitter?". I continued to carry on the pretence that we were both gay, and so became an object of both ridicule and interest. Clearly this person's fascinations in arseholes had turned him into one.

    Being a straight, white male who now could be deemed as on his way to middle-class (my ragged-trousered father would be spinning in his grave, if he was dead) I find myself in the enviable position of having absolutely zero reason to be discriminated against in the UK. My somewhat broad Birkenhead patter can provoke the odd 'robbing scouser' joke, but I've never in my life been at the receiving end of blatant ignorant abuse. So here I am, having a drink and minding my own business at a bar finally understanding just how rife homophobia still is in Britain.

    "Don't take offence mate, I'm only joking....I'm from Buckley, we love talking about sex and Landrovers" quipped our moral executioner. "Or perhaps sex with Landrovers?" I replied, a comment that fell on deaf cauliflower ears, despite me cursing inside that no-one else had heard what I thought was a great comeback (admittedly not so funny now I'm sober).

    "Why don't you ask those two couples over there about their sex life then mate?" - I was starting to get really riled and felt myself ready to follow my first instinct to launch this bell-end through the glass window. Then I realised my table-mate was laughing at the situation, and my vain attempt to stand up for his honour against a plank. Had I got myself into the trap of the white councillor who bans the phrase 'blackboard' in schools in case it offends black people who in reality couldn't care less? Was it really just 'one of those things' that gay people had to put up with?

    I'm clearly not qualified to be a social commentator on homophobia in Britain, but when the third person in our party brought back the beers and calmed me down, he reminded me why I was so taken aback by the situation. As a person who's been fortunate enough to receive a decent education and had parents who understood the value of a book, I have chosen my friends and work colleagues based largely around the person I am. That is to say, liberal and understanding that all 'minorities' are just the same as myself - descended from apes and clinging to a rock in space for a brief moment in time. That's why I was so shocked by the confrontation because I don't share my life with people that have the same values as the amoeba in the bar (bit harsh on amoebas actually, they're actually rather intelligent).

    It's this reason that I feel Big Heritage have developed a social mission of bringing educational opportunities to those that need it. Reaching out to young people (perhaps our assailant had reproduced?!) to help the understand the huge time-frame of our human existence which makes a mockery of our petty differences and really should inspire us to live by one commandment "Thou shalt be nice".

    And that's why we as a company will once again be supporting Chester Pride in 2014 - something actually I hope we don't need to do much longer. The event is fab, but hopefully in the next few decades being gay is something that is just as normal, dull and run of the mill as being blonde or quite liking cheddar. Nothing to be 'proud' about, as it's just something you happen to be.

    But until that time, Big Heritage will do all in can within it's educational programs to destroy ignorance, celebrate difference and 'be nice'.

     

    Dean Paton 21/12/13

  • A Wellcome Debate….

    Well, that was a brain scrambler!

    We’re just gathered some fine minds from the worlds of heritage and education to start putting the final planning stages of our Wellcome Trust “Roman Medical Roadshow” project into fruition.

    We decided to meet up in the Baltic Triangle of Liverpool – home to the city’s burgeoning creative community. Perhaps it was in the hope that a concentration of creative juices would lubricate our grey-matter, or perhaps it was because our warm hosts Agent Marketing provided us with a board room supplied with ample purple marker pens, an abundance of coffee and enough sugary treats to incapacitate Augustus Gloop.

    Our cast assembled from the four corners of the earth (well, Chester and Liverpool mostly) and over the first caffeine injection, the usual formalities of introducing various strangers began. Our team included a Senior Education Manager representing National Museums Liverpool, a gaggle of archaeologists, bone specialists, a lecturer in pedagogy and teacher of 25 years, a governor of a host of schools and the Big Heritage team. It was like watching the A-Team assemble only with fewer explosives, more sweets and a speculum.

    Speaking of specula (is that the plural?) our collection of medical implements made the perfect ice-breaker as we asked the group to hazard a few guesses as to their functions. Despite the fun involved, we got down to the business of bringing to light the history of medical practice in Roman Britain to the public. We obviously can’t go into too much detail yet, we wouldn’t want to spoil it! However, we can say that we have devised a series of events which the adjectives creative, engaging, educational and most of all brave best describe it.

    It’s relatively easy to throw together a run-of-the-mill workshop about the Romans. There’s a raft of historical evidence and material culture lies in museum stores across the UK in abundance. However, one of the things that the Romans left behind that we’re trying to filter out is their own overly biased and sometimes self-inflated opinion!

    There’s still an antiquated perception of Roman culture as being one that set out from Rome and  ‘enlightened’ the cave-dwelling inhabitants of wherever they liberated, when in fact their greatest asset was their ruthlessness in conquest and their ability to absorb ideas from those they conquered. Medicine of course, is no exception to this. Whilst chatting to Dr Ralph Jackson at the British Museum in December, he jokingly reminded us that Galen, purportedly the greatest Roman physician, is so important to Roman medicine because Galen himself told us that he was, and his texts have survived largely unaltered as opposed to other pretenders to the throne.

    However, we’re not labouring under any lazy Roman agenda at Big Heritage and we’re not trying to create just any old workshop. We’re trying to take the last 20 years of archaeological investigation and filter it for a non-academic audience to offer them a balanced perspective of medical practices in Romano-British society. No rose-tinted glasses, and with the bones of the Roman dead being given a voice equal to the loudest of any Roman chronicler. We want this project not only to deliver its core aims and objectives, but also to challenge preconception, encourage wider debate and really engage people with the past. Not lecture to them, not shout down at them from an ivory tower, but deliver the facts as clearly as possible and allow them to offer their own voice to the wider debate – something we feel will provide enrichment, multivocality and enduring quality to our work.

    Dean Paton