In 2018 The RAF Museum is celebrating the Centenary of the Royal Air Force through a multi-million pound transformation of its site, with new displays and exhibitions. One of the key parts of the Centenary plan is to tell the story of ‘Historic Hendon’, focusing on sharing the historical significance of the Museum’s site as the London Aerodrome and RAF Hendon.
The RAF Museum has been working with local people and community partners over the last year to develop interpretation and activities that reference the site and the local area’s unique airfield heritage. Historic Hendon is supported by funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund and from John Lyons charity, to help develop some of these activities. This has presented some exciting opportunities for the Museum to look at new ways of telling stories and engaging visitors and local people.
The key vision in the Historic Hendon interpretation project has been to bring local visitors to the heart of our site. With the re-design, a large new green space will be created in the middle of the Museum site, with a perimeter track that echoes the former airfield track linking all of our buildings together. As a free entry site, we are keen to encourage local people to come and visit, and spend time using the new space. Intrinsically, this linked the green space and the community together. It followed that the stories we told in the green space at the heart of the site should also relate to our local community, and tell the local story of ‘Historic Hendon’. A few projects we ran through April give a great snapshot of this.
During the first week of the holidays we ran a project with Rainbow Head and Head Held High, who received additional support and funding from the Young Barnet Foundation. The project, ‘Stop and Laugh’, worked with local young people to look at RAF role models, think about their own role models, and to either write stand-up comedy pieces or short stop-motion films (taking photographs and animating them) to tell their stories. Seven young people took part and did some great work during the four days, culminating in a showcase for parents and staff. There was a huge and visible boost in confidence and skill development in the young people throughout the course of the project. A big positive for me from this project was working with Rainbow Head and Head Held High, two excellent, necessary, Barnet organisations working on their first big funded and first partnership project. They will now go forward having received funding from Young Barnet Foundation, John Lyons and HLF, and having worked with a national museum as a partner, and the experience will undoubtedly stand them in good stead to continue their vibrant work engaging and supporting young people in Barnet.
During the second week of the holidays we ran a project with SoundSkool, who ran a music and performance course with an RSL qualification unit. Ten young people took part and gained their qualification, working in the RAF Museum community space and nearby Mill Hill Studios throughout the week to compose music and lyrics based largely on their responses to the museum collections. All of the participants were incredibly talented and cut across genres from rap to jazz to steel drumming, and took the RAF and Hendon themes to heart, investigating and getting hands-on with historical material and bringing the experiences and stories they discovered into the project. One group even wrote a song about RAF pilot Ray Holmes! The young people did their final performance by our Lancaster Bomber on Saturday to a crowd of around 70 people, and contributed something really different the site on the day, brought together a lot of local people, and captured the attention of visitors. This was a new, exciting way of telling RAF stories for us, and to see it done in such a joyous way by young people living in Barnet was fantastic.
In April we also hosted our first Oral History conversation café, with a group of older people from Barnet African Caribbean Association in West Hendon. This is part of a partnership with Volunteering Barnet, looking to bring older local people together to socialise and reminisce, and capture their memories on record. RAF Museum volunteers did great work encouraging and directing small groups to share their memories of Hendon, and the residents shared their memories from them moving here to the changes they had seen. It was a really interesting piece of social history, and we have several more of these booked in over the next few months. At the end of the project we hope to start editing them into podcasts to make these local stories available for people all around the world to hear via the RAF Museum website.
Finally, we have just started a new, exciting project with Barnet Homes and Barnet and Southgate college. Over the next five weeks, the RAF Museum are hosting an ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) conversation café to support development of local English learners spoken skills. We had 13 participants in the first session from all over Barnet, including a family from Syria who had been in the country only one week. In creating an informal, relaxed atmosphere in a real-world location, with support from volunteers and tutors, it has worked brilliantly as a way to give people real-world experience of speaking English away from the classroom. The people participating are largely refugees from places like Syria, and it has really shown the kind of impact we as a community can do together to continue to support refugee communities.
If you are interested in learning more about the RAF Museum Centenary project please visit www.rafmuseum.org.
Thank you all for your continued support and interest in the RAF Museum’s community projects, it makes my job super fun and a thousand times more rewarding!
Heritage Outreach Officer (Engagement & Interpretation)
Royal Air Force Museum London