I have volunteered with the CAER Heritage Project since 2013. Initially, my intention was to just ‘dip my toe’ into their local adult education archaeology courses, but I was immediately hooked. I had been interested in archaeology from the comfort of my own home for far too long, and it was time for me to literally get my hands dirty and visit the actual Hillfort excavation. The leaders and other volunteers could not have been more welcoming, and I was made to feel a part of the team straight away.
Over the last four years, I have been lucky enough to be involved in many more activities, and I now count the team and other volunteers as friends. Along with ACE, we have developed a real feeling of community, all because we share a common interest in history and our local heritage. As a group, we embody the Cambridge Dictionary definition of co-production – ‘to transfer some power from professionals to users, as it means that both parties contribute resources and have a legitimate voice’. Put simply, it means we have taken ownership of our own locality and heritage. Volunteers, team members and council staff have litter-picked, repaired the hillfort ramparts and regularly sit on various working parties, making decisions that will make Ely and Caerau even better places to live.
The project has gathered momentum over several years, but 2017 catapulted us into a realm that could only once have been imagined, when we were awarded a development grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. This enabled us to purchase the Gospel Hall in Church Road, with the intention of turning it into a Local Heritage Centre. All of this has been done in full consultation with volunteers; ius sitting alongside the architect giving him a wish list of what we would like, and how we would like it to look.
If this year’s hard work is successful, a further grant will enable us to actually renovate the Gospel Hall and have further excavations in the area.
Back in March, I was privileged to be asked to serve on the Hidden Hillfort Management Team, along with our youth volunteer, Alana. Other representatives are from Cardiff Council, Cardiff University, Glamorgan and Gwent Archaeology, the new Western High School, other voluntary organisations and ACE staff. I have been fortunate enough to represent Caer in a Co-creating Communities presentation in Bristol and a community archaeology workshop in Lincoln, accompanied by another volunteer, Viv Thomas. All of this, thanks to the adult education classes, four years ago.
It is now the end of 2017, and the project has won two major community archaeology awards, projecting us onto the national stage. On a personal note, the project has taught me that everyone can bring something positive to the table and I’m confident the project is going to go from strength to strength. I have enjoyed every moment of it and am really looking forward to 2018.