The public – mostly the local community of Gloucester, but also heritage visitors and tourists from further afield – are a major part of this project. The whole point of this project is, to use a slightly dramatic phrase, to ‘give the buildings back to the community of Gloucester.’ This means we would like the buildings to fulfil the functions the local residents most need it to fulfil. Yes, it is and remains a church. And yes, these beautiful and historical buildings will always also be a heritage attraction, and rightly so – these are both main strands of future use. However, in previous years this only kept the buildings open for a few hours most days. The Discover DeCrypt project will add to this by offering an affordable, fully accessible and welcoming space that is used more by the local community.
So in everything we do we try to include the opinion and voice of the local community as best we can. We do this through discussing ideas with representatives of many groups and local charities in Gloucester, but we also try to get the opinion of as many Gloucester residents as possible. In the development process this was through surveys in the church and in the street. Now it is through asking feedback and getting into conversations with people on Hard Hat Tours, on our monthly market stall and our creative community outreach projects. Jess, our brilliant Community Engagement Officer, does most of the outreach projects. But obviously we all help out. And I love doing the Hard Hat Tours and market stall.
The Hard Hat Tours are easy – everybody who signed up is already interested in the project or the buildings or at least curious to see how it is to be on a building site. So being contagious in my enthusiasm for the project is not difficult. People appreciate the look around and the only disappointment is sometimes that certain areas are closed off because of safety concerns.
The most common questions are around two topics: the crypt, and the future use of the buildings. The interest in the crypt is no surprise (it is in the name!) and crypts always sound intriguing. Unfortunately the crypt isn’t part of the tours currently as only a small part is accessible and even this is not safe at the moment. It also doesn’t look its best, as a new boiler and pipes are being installed and parts are boarded off because of asbestos contamination. However, in the future we will have a video tour ready and hold occasional crypt tours. The second topic people always want to find out more about are the future uses of the buildings, often asking these questions well before I get to that part of my talk! This is very encouraging – I love the history of the buildings, but my work is to help ensure its future and it is good to see the public doesn’t just come for the free history talks. It is very useful to test our ideas on such an involved audience and good ideas are always welcome!
Standing on the market is very different. It’s sometimes frustrating, but also funny, how afraid people are to make eye contact – I do the same thing, I totally understand – afraid you’re trying to sell them something (and to be fair, we are on a market). But the conversations that do happen are very enjoyable and varied. People involved in the project checking in, people who have never heard of it but finally find out what those buildings behind the scaffolding are, or tourists on a day out curious after all the heritage projects going on in Gloucester. And it is useful too, not just to spread the word about the project, but to make new connections. I met someone on a day out visiting Gloucester for the first time, who would like to exhibit in the church next year and a new mum from abroad who loved to do volunteering for us to get some work experience to help with finding a job – it is a great feeling when people carefully suggest these things and you can say ‘yes – that’s exactly what we’re trying to do, welcome!’
Feel free to comment here or contact us with any suggestions you have!
Also, we have sweets on the stall, so do come by and say hello next time 🙂