A heritage trail has been defined as: “A route linking features of historical interest, especially one planned as a tourist attraction.” Usually, it links famous buildings or landmarks, or buildings associated with famous people. (Here is an example of a trail map, for the Jewellery Quarter in Birmingham.)
We wanted to create a different kind of heritage trail. One that would record people’s memories of an area – and uncover the layers of history, the traces that remain of different people and communities.
Midland Actors Theatre worked with a group of young people at George Dixon Academy in Birmingham. MAT’s Artistic Director David Allen reports:
“We began by inviting the group to draw a rough map of the area where they live now – or somewhere they had lived previously; and to mark on it places which had personal associations for them - shops they visited, areas where they played, and so on.
“Then, we discussed as a group: could a map like this reveal things about history? Or is it all just personal anecdote? Most of them said, at first: it’s just personal anecdote; but we looked at what the value of personal stories could be for historians. This was part of a process, to shift the teaching of history in schools – and the understanding of what history is.
“The group then worked with the historian, Professor Carl Chinn, to create a ‘trail’ for a street, the Ladypool Road in Balsall Heath – recording memories of the shops on the street in the 1950s-60s, the things they sold, and the people who ran them. Carl – who grew up in the area – took them on his own guided tour of the street. The Heritage Trail will be posted online – and will help to preserve the history of the area. But the work is also designed to meet our aim: to reveal the city as a space, a home which we all share; and to break down barriers between communities.”
Other partners on the "Breaking Down Barriers" project have also undertaken work on "heritage trails." In Istituto Comprensivo Simonetta Salacone (Rome, Italy), children acted as tour guides to the local area. And in Projeto Scholé (Matosinhos, Portugal), students created an app for phones, to record the feelings of different people and communities for buildings and places in the town.