The Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre has a wealth of unique material relating to the First World War; this includes war-time diaries and personal letters, sketchbooks and postcards, as well as official documents and records. Within this material reside fragments of personal stories and insights into the human experience of the war. On the 24th of May the Centre hosted the first in a series of research days to introduce artists to the potential for working with this material. The feedback from those who attended was that the arts community needs more opportunities to network and discuss how to respond to the Centenary and who to work with to build projects. There were many artists who have the beginnings of a project but who need support to find resources and venues to work with and who found the detail within the archive both deeply touching and immensely interesting. The documents contain a level of detail that is not found in general history nor television documentaries. The archive gives artists the chance to hold a letter written in the trenches, to see the marks on books created by bomb damage and to leaf through the official war records which describe the mobilisation of men, the impact upon the family and community and the response of civilians to the hardship of the war years.
The Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre and the arts service are working together to develop training opportunities, funding surgeries and partnership events to support creatives to engage with the heritage sector. The History Centre is currently developing a programme of open access research days for the autumn which will present a selection of archival materials curated and displayed within the quiet room. Earlier in the month the Centre delivered an introduction to oral history to support artists who are developing projects built upon community memories and folk songs. The Centre is working to ensure that artists collaborate on the development of projects and that approaches to the military community are co-ordinated and sensitive to their needs. The Heritage Lottery Fund has also announced its new funding streams for the Centenary and is keen to see countywide collaboration to ensure that the funds that they distribute have the maximum impact and that projects do not compete.
The arts service would like to hear from any artists who are currently developing a project for the Centenary, especially those who are looking for support to raise funds or develop partnerships. There will be an event in the summer with a presentation from the HLF which will provide guidance on seeking funds from them. More information on this event will be made available as the details are confirmed. The arts service would also like to develop a web platform to allow creatives to describe their projects and discover more about what else is going on in the county.