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An inspiration to us all, Sarah Wheeler

By Anna Sexton, on 25 April 2016

Last week we learnt that our friend and colleague, Sarah Wheeler, from the Dragon Cafe passed away.  Those of us that met Sarah as part of ‘Dig Where We Stand’ were fortunate to work alongside someone with such warmth, energy, enthusiasm and wisdom.  She was a visionary and an inspiration:

“And just as astonishing is the knowledge

That we are, more or less,

The makers of the future.

We create what time will frame.

And a beautiful dream, shaped

And realised by a beautiful mind,

Is one of the greatest gifts

We can make to our fellow human beings “, Ben Okri, Mental Fight.

We echo the tribute given to Sarah on the Dragon Cafe website: http://dragoncafe.co.uk.

‘Archaeologies of the Mind’ at the Dragon Cafe

By Anna Sexton, on 20 August 2013

Led by Dr Beverley Butler (Institute of Archaeology, UCL) we have spend three Monday evenings with Mental Fight Club at the Dragon Cafe collaboratively exploring heritage, archives and archaeology in a series of interactive sessions which we called ‘Archaeologies of the Mind’.  The Dragon Cafe is a wonderful initiative that meets in the crypt of St George’s Church opposite Borough tube station every Monday.  It is open to all and has a packed programme of activities and events revolving around the cafe itself.  We were involved as part of the MFC’s ‘Spirit of Southwark’ project and the aim of our evenings was to open up avenues for reflection on aspects of individual and collective heritage with those that gathered.


29 July: Archaeologies of the Mind

Our evenings kicked off with an introduction by Beverley Butler who opened up a series of questions and themes for consideration.  Beverley talked about her own research into aspects of heritage and wellbeing, using her own fieldwork around Jerusalem syndrome as a focal point.   Beverley shared examples of New Jerusalem from Blake’s poetry to the opening ceremony of the 2012 olympic games for the audience to reflect on.  This was followed by a talk by Marion Stone from the Freud Museum that raised some interesting questions around curatorial intervention in representations of the past.  Marion also shared the objects of significance that Freud kept on his desk which can be interpreted in various ways.  Prior to this session, the Dragon Cafe members had been invited to bring their own object of significance to share with the group.  It was fascinating to hear participants speak about the significance and meaning of the objects they had brought with them which ranged from Thames foreshore finds, to an ornamental lighthouse to a personal friend.  We were struck by the depth of the auto analysis that came from those that brought objects.


  5 August: Archives and Recovery

This week focused in on the creation of archives using the mental health recovery archive at the Wellcome Library as a starting point for thinking about how mental health is represented in public histories.  I spoke about the institutional context for creating the recovery archive and the impetus to balance the voice of the mental health professional expert with that of the individual with lived experience.  This was followed by an excellent exploration by Dolly Sen who has contributed to the archive.  Dolly shared her reflections on why she felt the archive was important and how she has represented aspects of her story within the archive.  The discussion with the audience focused on the issue of framing the archive around the theme of ‘recovery’ and the connotations that the label brings with it.  The audience contributed many insights into how they would choose to represent their own stories including the idea of mental health metamorphosis as a non pejorative alternative to recovery.  We also reflected on the role of archivists and how we are moving from passive keepers to social activists.

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12 August: Visions of Archaeology

Our final session fell on Blake’s death day so it was fitting to start the evening with a talk about Blake’s grave by Robin Hatton-Gore.  Following on from this Paul Montgomery (IoA, UCL) introduced ideas around the archaeological imagination focusing on representations of archaeology in literature and popular culture.  Tina then gave a very informative talk that set the archaeological process in context before focusing on the archaeology of St George’s Church itself.  The talks opened up discussion around the concept of standing upon layers of the past and in particular people’s graves; this led into a reflection on the ethics of excavating human remains and of archaeology as a destructive process; as well as a discussion around the feelings and connections people have to places.


The final part of the evening sought to introduce the audience to the collections held by UCL museums through object handling.  Objects from various Museums and Collections, including the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology (http://www.ucl.ac.uk/museums/petrie), the Grant Museum of Zoology (http://www.ucl.ac.uk/museums/zoology), collections from the Department of Anthropology and finds from the Thames foreshore from the Thames Discovery Programme (http://www.thamesdiscovery.org/) were brought in for participants to handle and discuss with us, giving people an opportunity to explore their own interpretations of these items and how archaeologists analyse and interpret them.


Opening up discussion and dialogue with the Dragon Cafe audience has been fantastic for the Dig Where We Stand Team and we have learnt a lot from the whole experience.  Our thanks go to Mental Fight Club for welcoming us, and being so open to sharing ideas around heritage with us. Special thanks to Sarah and Declan for co-ordinating and facilitating it all so wonderfully.  Photos and podcasts from the evenings can be found on the dragon cafe website: www.dragoncafe.co.uk

Catch 22’s Becontree Stories Project

By Anna Sexton, on 12 August 2013

We have thoroughly enjoyed our involvement with Catch 22’s ‘Becontree Stories’ project; where a group of young people have used the collections at Valence House to explore the history of the Becontree Estate in preparation for meeting and filming older Becontree residents about their lives, connections, stories and experiences of living in the area.

On 29 July, Anna Sexton spent time with the group using the archive collections held by the Local Studies and Archives Centre at Valence House following on from an introduction to the history of the estate from the borough Archivist Tahlia Coombs.  The young people were encouraged to find documents that they found interesting, surprising or inspiring or that helped them understand more about the history of the area.



Hearing the feedback from the group on what they had found out from the archives was the best part.  Some had looked at memoirs and reminiscences already in the archives and picked out funny or surprising stories from them.  Others had used parts of the council archive to look at the early history of the area.  Others had focused on particular buildings that had resonated with them personally and that they hoped the older residents might have memories of.

On 31 July, Anna went back to talk to the group about oral history interviewing – this tied in with film training that had been delivered to the young people the day before by another project partner.  The young people paired up with each other to get some practice on good interviewing techniques using positive body language and open questions.  Feedback from the group was that it was good to find out more about other people in the group as well as practice technique which came naturally once the conversations started.

Tina also visited Valence House on the 31st to observe and photograph the reminiscences of the older participants and the pairing up of younger interviewers and older interviewees. Tina says:

The morning started with participants offering key words they associate with Becontree, followed by each of the older participants giving a brief background to themselves, often with the aid of photographs or objects they felt captured an aspect of their life on the Estate and in the Dagenham area. It was truly wonderful to hear such fascinating stories of the War, work and domestic and family life in the area in the 1930s-1980s, and to see participants discussing all of these together, prompting long-forgotten memories. After a break (with delicious carrot cake made by Ioannis), the younger participants met those they would interview. The room was full of chatter, and this again was great to see. Before we finished for lunch, the younger participants were asked again what words they would associate with Becontree and Dagenham after talking with their interviewees: many now said ‘pride,’ ‘community spirit’ and ‘friendliness,’ showing how different peoples’ histories can make you think differently and more positively about the place you live in. Ioannis, Catch-22 volunteers and Tahlia at Valence House are all to be congratulated on such a fantastic morning, and I would like to thank both the younger and older participants for such and enjoyable morning!

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All in all – being involved with Becontree Stories has been a very rewarding experience for us as a team.  For more information on this project check out their ‘Becontree Stories’ facebook page and the website at www.storiesofbecontree.com.

Digging Grove Park & East Finchley

By Tina Paphitis, on 2 August 2013

We had a busy week of digging from Monday 8th July to Sunday 14th July, with excavations taking place at opposite ends of London. During the week, Gabriel, Sarah and Tina opened a trench in the garden of the Ringway Centre in Grove Park to teach local Primary School children about archaeology and get them digging! They also learnt about processing and drawing finds, and went on a nature walk with Earnie and Stephen.

We also dug a few test pits in the woods. Our aims were to understand a little bit more about the land around the Centre, and we found lots of domestic and gardening detritus in the test pits, including bits of clay smoking pipes, pottery, a metal bucket and ceramic building material. The schoolchildren were fantastic and worked extremely hard in the main trench, which was mostly formed of clay: lots of clay + hot sun = difficult digging! Here, we found more clay pipe and pottery, a marble and a few bullet shells, but the vast amount of clay we had suggests this was mainly a landscaped area to create a garden. We also had a visit from the Mayor of


We are very grateful to three Institute of Archaeology graduate students for their hard work helping with digging and teaching at Grove Park: Paul (MA Public Archaeology), Lewis (MA Public Archaeology) and Alex (MA Archaeology). We couldn’t have done it without them! We also had three second-year undergraduate students from Birkbeck University helping us out during the week with test-pitting.Lewisham!

We all had a great time at Grove Park, and would like to thank Stephen for his hospitality and all the wonderful schoolchildren we met! At the end of the week, Sarah and Tina took the tools from South London to North, ready for the Big Dig Weekend at East Finchley.

Sarah joined the East Finchley Community Trust for the East Finchley Big Dig on 13th July.  The launch had attracted 3 groups of participants and a number of other test pits were opened by Roger Chapman from East Finchley Community Trust.  Excavation was tough, as the weather was very hot.  Sarah worked with Hendon and District Archaeological Society on a geophysical survey of part of the Martin School playing field. This was added to the data from previous surveys, with hopes of finding out more about the mystery structure found on the school dig days. More on this soon!

Gemma Romain on Exploring Canning Town’s African heritage

By Sarah B Dhanjal, on 25 July 2013

Gemma Romain has written a guest blog about working with Iroko Theatre Company.
At The Equiano Centre we’ve recently been working with the Dig Where We Stand project, linking up with the Iroko Theatre Company based in Stratford, East London.  We worked with them on their fascinating project, Homage to Canning Town African Ancestors, providing advice on resources, archiving, creating exhibitions and to share and learn from one another (our experiences of researching black history). This HLF-funded project has been documenting and exploring the African presence in Canning Town’s history and presenting this history together with the experiences of Canning Town African communities today.
Iroko visit
Left to right: Ego Ahaiwe, Ife Adedeji, Andrew Turley, Gemma Romain and Alex Oma-Pius. Photograph taken on 7 May 2013. © Andrew Turley, 2013.
As Iroko Artistic Director Alex Oma-Pius told me and fellow project member Ego Ahaiwe, the project was originally inspired by the Canning Town street names he came across which referenced African geography and history, such as Mafeking Road and Dongola Road. He set out to find out more about why these African names could be found in East London streets, documenting in the process the history of British imperialism in Africa in the late nineteenth century.
Durban Road pic
Photograph of Durban Road street sign by Ego Ahaiwe, 21 June 2013. One of the many East London street signs referencing African places and histories. © Ego Ahaiwe, 2013.
Research for their  exhibition and pamphlet was brought together by a team of volunteers including Jenny Farren, Andrew Turley and Illina Huq and was curated by Ife Adedeji. It explores and documents this local and international history, focusing on histories such as ethnically-mixed black and white communities in Crown Street, which became known as ‘Draughtboard Alley’; racism against sailors in their lodging houses during 1917; and the role of Africans in the Second World War. Interwar Black activists and students were also highlighted including Ladipo Solanke, the Nigerian student and political activist who in 1925 co-founded the West African Students Union (WASU); Kamal Chunchie, the Sri Lankan founder of the East London-based Coloured Men’s Institute; and Stella Thomas, a WASU member, who studied at the University of Oxford in the 1920s and was called to the bar in 1933.
Iroko’s research was shared with the local East London community through the exhibition and with a fantastic musical performance which took place on 21 June 2013. Composed by Juwon Ogungbe, directed by Iroko Artistic Director Alex Oma-Pius and performed by Afla Sackey, Yaw Asumadu and  Juwon Ogungbe, the piece focused on two fictional characters – Kweku and Kwesi – African dock workers living in early twentieth century Canning Town – and through their voices we see brought to life some of the histories and experiences of the sailors which had been highlighted in the exhibition.
For more information on the project, visit their website here http://www.irokotheatre.org.uk/projectDetail.php?projectID=6
Project member Ego Ahaiwe reflects on the performance:
Iroko Theatre’s melodic and harmonious song of Eshe, the Swahili word for life, resonated through the East End on a sunny Friday evening. A performance of song saluting our African East End Ancestors, reminding us of the life they had experienced, the barriers they had faced and their achievements. Our spirits lifted through the tales as they took us on, a trip down memory lane, along streets that had previously had little or no personal relevance. The event informed us of the background of these streets and areas. Durban Street that I had ignored when I walked out of the station on the way to the performance now grabbed and demanded my attention on the way home. I hadn’t known that there had been 1 million Africans in the Second World War. The exhibition and accompanying booklet had so many useful facts, that I will continue to share “did you know?…..” Iroko Theatre gently fills in some of the gaps to a history widely unknown.

Preserving Your Work Workshop

By Sarah B Dhanjal, on 8 July 2013

On Saturday 29th  June we held our last workshop for All Our Stories groups on archiving and preservation.  The workshops looked at archiving both the outcomes that the projects had created and the materials that they have been collecting.  The sessions looked at different kinds of materials and archives, with a view to ensuring their preservation for as long as possible.

Anna Sexton and Jenny Bunn began the day with a workshop that looked at paper and digital archives.  The workshop used Anna’s personal family archive as a practical example, with which participants followed the  processes that Anna  explained.


Jenny discussed relevant issues in digital archiving.  Anna and Jenny’s PowerPoint can be found here: Anna and Jenny’s Presentation

After lunch, Glynn and Adam from the Museum of London’s London Archaeological Archive and Research Centre (LAARC) presented a session on looking after objects.  They began by looking at materials, how to identify them and assess their condition.  They then moved on to consider the needs that different materials have and the risks associated with storing them.  Adam finished the workshop by demonstrating how to pack a coin, an exercise which showed the kinds of materials and techniques that need to be used to pack objects to the LAARC’s standards.

Glynn and Adam’s PowerPoint to be added here:

Andrew finished the day by discussing how to archive oral history.  Andrew looked at archiving and lodging material with a repository, how to ensure the best possible standards and documentation.

Andrew’s PowerPoint can be found here: Andrew’s Presentation

Big Dig Launch!

By Sarah B Dhanjal, on 2 July 2013

Sarah and Gabriel went to Martin Primary for the launch of the East Finchley Big Dig last week.  The project aims to find out more about the past of East Finchley, through digging test pits in the gardens of residents.  These keyholes into the archaeology of East Finchley will be mapped by time period to help create a broader understanding of the history of settlement in the area.

Roger from the East Finchley Community Trust introduced the project.  Bill Bass of the Hendon and District Archaeology Society (HADAS) introduced himself and the society, who will be working with us on the project.  Gabriel talked about the history of test pitting activities and his previous experiences of using the technique.  He also explained how important each test pit is, regardless of what is (or isn’t) found in it!  Even pits where nothing is found provide ‘negative evidence’, suggesting that settlement was not present, which further helps our understanding of the area.  Five test pits are planned in this first year of East Finchley Big Dig, which we hope to work on with East Finchley Community Trust and HADAS in the future.
Sarah and Tina met with Kayte McSweeney from the Science Museum to share our experiences, news of our projects and ideas for collaboration.  We’re hoping to work together more closely in the future.

A Trip to School

By Tina Paphitis, on 18 June 2013

Last week Sarah, Anna and Tina visited Queen’s Park Primary School to talk to some children from Year 6 about food and objects from the countries they or their families are originally from for an exhibition put on by Steve at Paddington Arts. Some of the countries represented by the children included Somalia, Kuwait, Sudan, Bangladesh and Morocco, and the children talked about what these things reminded them of, what they are for, when foods were eaten and what the things mean to them. It was lovely to hear the family stories that come out of talking about food and objects, and the wonderful diversity the school and wider community has.

Beverley Butler, Anna and Tina also met up last week to draft a programme as part of Mental Fight Club‘s exploration of heritage and the ‘archaeology of the mind,’ to take place in July and August.

We are also looking forward to Grove Park’s Summer Fair on 6th July, to be followed by a week-long dig with local primary schools in Grove Park from 8th July, and East Finchley’s Big Dig Weekend on 13th and 14th July!

Coming up soon…

By Sarah B Dhanjal, on 7 June 2013

It’s been a busy time at Dig Where We Stand, we’ve been planning our upcoming workshop on preserving your research.  We’re especially excited that colleagues from the Museum of London’s London Archaeological Archive and Research Centre (LAARC) will be contributing.  There will be talks on paper archives, audio preservation and looking after objects.  We’re also planning a session on digital preservation.

The East Finchley Big Dig has been advertised locally, we’re hoping for plenty of local interest.
Coming up next week, we have a trip to school with Paddington Arts, more on that next Friday!

Presenting your Research training

By Sarah B Dhanjal, on 17 May 2013

Last Saturday (11th May) we held our second workshop.  The theme was ‘Presenting Your Research’ and focused on thinking about exhibiting and interpreting your research to a wider audience.  The first talk was by Sarah, in which she encouraged the participants to think about who their audiences will be and how best to cater for them.  This was followed another talk by Sarah on taking interpretation outdoors, using interpretation panels, trails and other methods.  After lunch, Chris talked about how to research historic film and images, including an interesting and entertaining clip of Morecambe in 1901.  Anna presented OMEKA as a method of curating and sharing archives, using her own PhD research as an example.  Our last presentation was from Subhadra Das, Curator for UCL Teaching and Research Collections.  Subhadra shared her experience of curating the Disposal exhibition at UCL, using it as a way of walking us through the exhibition process.

Slides for the presentations can be found here:

Anna’s Presentation

Sarah’s Presentations

Chris’ Presentations

Subhadra’s Presentation

Last week, Sarah and Gabe met Roger from the East Finchley Community Trust to discuss how the test pit activity at Martin Primary went.  The activity was received positively by the school and the pupils and included the discovery of a ‘mysterious bunker’. For more info see this – http://bit.ly/10tNwld  We also discussed the Est Finchley Big Dig, coming up in July.

Anna and Sarah at Paddington Arts

Tina and Sarah visited Valence House on Friday to discuss the Catch-22 project and helped to formulate three days of archive and oral history training for young people in Becontree.  DWWS will be providing special sessions for the training days.

Anna, Tina and Sarah also went to Paddington Arts on Monday, where they helped Steve and his work experience pupils to work

through the exhbition process to create a mock up of the project exhibition, to be displayed in late June.

We also had some excellent film training on Wednesday – another busy week!