• Nicholas Harrison

North Yorkshire students survey local graveyard.

As part of the ‘enrichment’ programme, aimed at broadening students’ horizons and interests, Year 6 students at Terrington Hall School in North Yorkshire conducted a graveyard survey in their local Church with the charity Soldier On!.

As a result of Covid-19, many of the extra-curricular opportunities were cancelled this term in schools, and there was a need to find alternative activities to ensure students were kept busy in ways that still enhanced their educational experience. Soldier On!, spoke to Terrington Hall’s new Headmaster, Simon Kibler, and explained how they deliver personal development within a heritage setting to prepare people for the world of work as well as support people who are struggling to secure satisfying futures. Working on traditional archaeology digs, delivering surveys of historical sites, compiling personal memories of historic events to restoring military vehicles, the charity aims to increase self-awareness and develop transferable skills. Previous projects have demonstrated an increase in technical skills, team-work, community cohesion, knowledge and appetite to preserve local history, as well as a decrease in social-isolation and loneliness. Specifically amongst vulnerable and disadvantaged groups, participation within heritage projects has seen an increase in confidence, self-esteem and has seen participants use the work-experience as a springboard to securing sustainable, happier and self-sufficient futures within volunteering, further education and employment.

Mr Kibler demonstrated the progressive direction he wishes to take Terrington Hall School and agreed to partner with Soldier On! In normal times, pupils at Terrington would attend All Saints Church for regular services; on the first Thursday after half term, 21 Year 6 students gathered together in the churchyard, and were welcomed by the charity’s founder, Nicholas Harrison. Having received a health and safety briefing, and a talk by a local historian about the Church, it was suggested to the students that graveyards shouldn’t be seen as scary places inhabited by ghosts and often the location for anti-social behaviour. They form a single location offering a multi-layered exploration into the local history. The headstones themselves are often biographical markers, whose text and symbols offer a fascinating journey of detection and which, with each additional layer of understanding allow a closeness, appreciation and meaning to be discovered between today’s child and yesterday’s father, mother, child, farmer, builder, or even, as was discovered in Terrington, a world-renowned botanist!

Within only a couple of weekly visits to the site, the children were saying that they were happy and comfortable to be there, the place was becoming more familiar to them. Their apparent shyness and unease, experienced closer to Hallowe’en week, was replaced by a sense of connection between the present and the past, and between themselves, the places that they live, and the places mentioned on the memorials. Children eagerly sketched the headstones, learning about the different types of stone, placing local events within wider historical timelines, learning about the trees and natural history, how the site is maintained by the gardener, and a host of other warmly-received additions to their knowledge that seamlessly align themselves to their classroom learning. The children also received a visit from a university archaeologist who taught them about photogrammetry and created on-line 3-D images of three headstones chosen by the children. The charity recommended a specific software that will enable to the school to make their own 3-D images! The most popular stone, shaped to look like a scroll, was that of Richard Spruce, the aptly named Victorian botanist who, before returning to his birthplace within the Howardian Hills, for 15 years explored the length of the Amazon. What the children loved about this headstone was that it was ‘different’.

That last word sums up this experience. It was ‘different’. But it was also educational and demonstrates how any aspect of heritage can be used to help people to develop a sense of meaning in the present and acquire the skills and competencies that are so valued by universities and in work. Soldier On! are eager to hear from Heads of other schools who would like to investigate how your school can deliver an inspiring interpretation of OFSTED’s requirement for ‘Cultural Capital’.

Mr Simpson, who helped to coordinate the activity alongside Madam Grant, said “It was wonderful to see how the children quickly made a connection with the graveyard. It was obvious that they soon felt at home in the setting, and came to view what had once been a slightly other-worldly or even creepy place as a part of their lived environment. They became familiar with the names on the stones and with the details of the lives that are recorded on them, and enjoyed working to decipher the inscriptions and think about the lives of people in and around Terrington in years gone by. I am certain their their preconceptions about spaces like churchyards were challenged, and the activity gave them the chance to develop a range of different skills like sketching, map making, organising themselves and making close observations.”

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