Dr Sharon Coen, Senior Lecturer in Psychology, University of Salford, has been working on a project with the Centre for Applied Archaeology to explore the impact of community archaeology on its participants. The project, ‘I Dig therefore I am: place, identity and participation in community-based archaeology projects’ aimed to explore the role played by participating in community-based archaeological projects in the development and construction of place-identity and attachment. Dr Coen and her team used focus groups with participants (Number: 24; 11 Male; 13 Female) in five areas of Greater Manchester (Chadderton, Manchester, Radcliffe, Salford and Stockport) who were involved in the Dig Greater Manchester project. The goal of these focus groups was to understand whether and how the experience of participating in the digs modified, strengthened or initiated identification and attachment with the local environment and the local community. The results of the study offer insights into the potential benefits of community-based initiatives in fostering positive relationship with an individual’s local environment and community.
The Dig Greater Manchester project aims to give local communities in the Greater Manchester area the opportunity to get involved in a variety of ways in their own history and heritage. Through this initiative, Greater Manchester residents have and can get ‘hands on’ experience of an archaeological excavation in a safe and healthy environment. Moreover, a public open day is organised and run at the conclusion of each excavation, in which academics and volunteers run guided tours of the sites and site based activities such as family history, crafts stalls and a small trench where families can engage in excavations.
While research in Psychology has already established the benefits of participating in heritage-related activities for individuals, Dr Coen and her team have noticed that there is a striking lack of work concerning the benefits at a social and community level. This project aimed at filling this gap by exploring the impact that participation in Dig Greater Manchester had on participants’ social identity.
Dr Coen and her team conducted a series of focus groups asking participants to talk about their experiences in participating to Dig Greater Manchester. They asked participants to talk about the resons behind their participation, their experience of working at the dig and the impact that working on the sites had in terms of the way they thought about the place they live in and their community.
- Participants were overall enthusiastic about the experience, which they found enriching
- One of the positive aspects of participating in the Digs was the fact that volunteers felt a real sense of comradery, where the usual divisions we experience in our society (based on age, socio-economic status, competence and knowledge) disappeared. There was a real sense of cohesion, where everybody was there working together for a common goal.
- Participants reported the experience helped them making new friends
- Participants reported that the experience had made them feel closer to the local area and the local community
- For a good proportion of the volunteers, this experience lead to further engagement with the community, by participating in other Digs or initiatives linked to Dig Greater Manchester, signing up to other community-based archaeological (and non-archaeological) projects, or seeking funding to support new initiatives.
Dig Greater Manchester appears to be a great initiative which enriches volunteers not only at a personal level, but also at a social one by giving the opportunity to interact with other members of the community they would not normally meet, facilitating the formation of new friendships and fostering engagement with the local community.
Dr Sharon Coen would like to thank Dr Liz Smith and Simone Aprili for their help on this project.
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