• Nicholas Harrison

Unearthing hidden talent in archaeology. Can we do more for disabled job-seekers?

Updated: Jun 18



Tim at work on archeological pottery


Our ‘Learn at home’ pottery classes have been expertly put together by Tim and we are hugely grateful to him for improving our archaeological knowledge when we can’t get out into the field. We’re learning much about pottery, but little about Tim himself? In this week’s post we interviewed him to get to know him better. You may find this especially interesting if you are involved with diversity and inclusion, or disability within archaeology. So Tim, why archaeology? “Archaeology is something I got into at a very early age, my father encouraged an early interest with visits to museums and historic sites, possibly because he was a history teacher. This was increased when we joined the Sealed Knot, an historical re-enactment group, when I was 6, and in addition to playing wargames and visiting even more historic sites I met a few archaeologists. Then later I learned my maternal grandfather had been one of Sir Mortimer Wheeler’s diggers and I was hooked”. And you’ve managed some community digs with Soldier On!, what has been your most exciting experience to date? “Well, its got to be writing the pottery report for Caerwent having dug the site. Although I’d worked on four continents I’d always missed out on fieldwork projects there, so that was a high point. Then of course there’s the chance to work with disadvantaged people and the satisfaction gained when I can answer a question that enhances their enjoyment.” And Tim, at the same time as helping other people, you have your own health to consider don’t you? “I’ve two main problems: vertigo and club feet. Both of these have pretty much ensured, to date, that I have a very limited career in archaeology. The feet restrict my fieldwork opportunities by restricting the PPE footwear that I can use while the vertigo prevents my holding a driving licence without which no commercial company I’ve applied to has been prepared to employ me in one of the roles that my problems with footwear wouldn’t matter in.” But, from what we’ve seen on Soldier On! projects, both your club feet and vertigo haven’t actually affected your archaeological abilities at all have they? “In a word, 'no'. The charity invited me to attend the Caerwent dig as a volunteer and then offered me a chance to project manage a dig on the site of a mediaeval Priory. On both occassions, either as part of a team, or as a member of ‘staff’, I make reaonsable adjustments to how I work, which allows me to carry out my duties to a high standard without affecting my health. Taking the vertigo as an example, if I am not wearing my special glasses and I see a computer screen, I often go on to suffer from extreme headaches and that does make working impossible. But, if the team are aware of this, I simply tell people I am coming into a room and they turn their screens away until I get my glasses on. Managing this situation demands excellent team work, communication and planning ahead."

If we could wave a magic wand now, what would your career look like? "I am dedicated to securing a long term and full-time post in finds work with a commercial archaeology company, a museum or a university and I wouldn’t be fussy as to where geographically. It is for this reason that I volunteer with Soldier On! whose projects allow me to demonstrate my capabilities and not focus on my limitations."

What is your view of the opportunities for people with disabilities to work in archaeology? "Every survey shows that the sector’s talk of equality and inclusiveness is, at least as far as those with disabilities is concerned, just that-talk. Therefore, my message would be that that needs to change, we need employment in the sector and the sector needs to work with people with disabilities to ensure this happens.”

Have you any advice for people with disabilities trying to secure roles within the sector? "At present its difficult for me give any helpful advice since my own experiences have run into dead ends so many times that its hard to be optimistic. The closest I can manage is if you’re interested in voluntary work then keep trying to gain experience, there is much out there. If it’s a paid role you’re after then if you’ve got any barriers such as restricted areas in which you can work or disabilities, particularly ones that stop you driving, forget about it. It may happen but then you may win the lottery too!”

Okay Tim, lets see if we can do something to help you achieve this goal. That rather hard-hitting ending epitomises the rather harsh existence for so many disabled people who are desperate to prove their worth in their chosen career. The reality is that many possess some fantastic capabilities and are frankly in danger of being overlooked. Yes of course health and safety laws must be followed but projects such as those run by Soldier On!, clearly demonstrate that with a little imagination and desire, the effort that is needed to ensure hidden, unemployed, gems, such as Tim, is minimal when balanced with successful outcomes for vulnerable people with talent. There is absolutely no reason why the heritage sector should be perceived to be a closed door to people with disabilities. As a charity, we have proven that these fantastic people have so much to offer, and it costs us nothing. If your organisation is seriously concerned with this agenda, can we make a start with Tim? Soldier On! would proudly provide a glowing reference for him, based not merely on his attitude but his competencies as a pottery expert. He would add value to any organisation needing this capability. In addition, having seen his CV, I can tell you that he appears to have more qualifications and degrees, than I’ve had shopping trips of late! We are acutely aware that times are difficult, we know that many organisations are struggling to survive and have staff furloughed. Could we politely suggest that this quieter time provides an ideal opportunity for organisations to take a look at people such as Tim, for whom the busier times are the ones during which people say, ‘We are too busy to deal with this now…’ and start thinking about future recruitment needs. Please email nicholas@soldieron.org.uk to arrange a time to discuss and PLEASE, if you really don’t think you, or your organisation can help at this time, can you introduce us to other organisations so we can start networking on Tim’s behalf? Thank you very much indeed.