Case Study: Building Capacity
Developing and applying specialist skills in the context of national and international heritage sites
Swansea University (Research Institute for Arts and Humanities [RIAH])
February 2012 – August 2013
The heritage skills programme at Swansea University offers specialist heritage-themed workshops to postgraduate researchers (PGRs) and early career researchers (ECRs) at Swansea and other Welsh HEIs, as well as providing opportunities for PGRs and ECRs to apply the skills acquired in national and international cultural institutions and heritage organisations. The programme thereby aims to enhance employability credentials; build capacity in the heritage sector; help develop a generation of academic researchers with the skills set and networking experience to effectively engage with the impact and knowledge exchange agendas; and contribute directly to the early stage development of two major heritage sites – Cu @ Swansea and the South Asasif Conservation Project, Egypt.
Content of Skills Development programme
A series of workshops, master classes and keynote addresses were delivered throughout 2012-13 by academics at Swansea, as well as leading practitioners from key heritage sites / organisations.
Workshops were complemented by a range of placements, lasting 1-3 weeks. Examples include:
- South Asasif Conservation Project, Egypt: trainees received on-site training in conservation and interpretation and worked as part of the project team on the archaeological site.
- Swansea Museum: PGRs helped develop themed areas of a new gallery and exhibition, conducted primary research for future exhibitions and took part in themed museum workshops.
- The Glamorgan-Gwent Archaeological Trust: trainees worked closely with a Community Archaeologist to collate and add materials to the Historic Environment Record, thereby enhancing digital records on new historic and archaeological sites.
- Regeneration Department, Swansea Council: placements focused upon the regeneration of the historic Hafod area of Swansea, including producing interpretation of the site and historical research.
Finally, a nationwide call was issued inviting postgraduates to take part in a world-leading and unique programme entitled ‘The Heritage Apprentice’. Twelve candidates were selected and divided into teams to tackle a specific challenge associated with Cu @ Swansea, an exciting, heritage-led regeneration project focused on the site of the former Hafod-Morfa Copperworks in the Lower Swansea Valley. Teams were given three days to complete their challenge, with mentoring provided by academic representatives from Swansea. Following a ‘hiring and firing’ session where the teams faced a panel of five judges, drawn from the worlds of academia, heritage, business, and tourism, the winning team was ‘hired’ to undertake a two-week work placement on the Cu @ Swansea project. For further information on the heritage apprentice programme, please visit the Swansea University Website.
Skills acquired by PGRs
Our heritage-themed programme provided opportunities to bolster employability credentials and acquire a range of transferable skills and experience currently in demand by the heritage and tourism sectors. Specific skill set development includes:
- On-site training in conservation / interpretation;
- Object handling sessions;
- Archival analysis;
- Development of marketing strategies / campaigns;
- Development of online databases;
- Analysis / critique of museum / gallery displays and exhibits;
- Experience of conducting museum / gallery tours and workshops for the general public and local school children;
- Collation and presentation of placement-related research.
- Development of rigorous selection criteria for placements and heritage apprentice programme – due to high demand, not all applicants could be accommodated.
- Ensuring a well-structured and manageable programme of placements was in place to enable appropriate distribution of equipment (cameras / dictaphones). The timing of placements had to be agreed between Swansea’s project team and host partners.
- Some logistical issues when finalising placements with the South Asasif Conservation project (organisation of visas, daily travel within Egypt, daily munitions).
Our ‘top tips’ for applicants
- Ensure that you have a committed team in place, especially if your project has multiple strands of activities (in our case, workshops, placements, heritage apprentice programme).
- Engage with non-HEI partners at the earliest opportunity (preferably through face-to-face meetings, especially in the initial stages) and keep partners informed of scheme developments.
- Ensure that project partners are invited to meetings, workshops etc. which are integral to the scheme in order to consolidate relations between them, project participants and the project team.
- Ensure that placement hosts are briefed on the focus of students’ research to enable placement activities to complement academic interests.
- Provide regular briefings to PGRs on placement developments / requirements and academic expectations.
- Consider ways in which you can bring partners, students and the project team together to celebrate successes of your scheme (in our case, a heritage apprentice celebratory dinner and an end of project reception / exhibition at the National Waterfront Museum, Swansea).
Further details are available at the Swansea University website.