On Saturday 8 April 2017, Dorset History Network held a morning event at Dorset History Centre, with speakers and discussion about the Network, the past, present and future. Introduced by Jacqui Halewood (DHN Chair), the day involved talks from Jane Howells (British Association for Local History) and Claire Skinner (Wiltshire Local History Forum), as well as memories of the previous ten years from founder Chair Katherine Barker.
Jane Howells (BALH)
Jane opened the day by discussing the BALH and the work that it does on a national level. She talked to the group about the spread of Local History organisations across the country, and the activities that the BALH undertakes with different partners. Jane talked about the role of the BALH as a facilitator of links to different groups, and the importance of trying to unite these groups to share ideas on a national level.
She also discussed the history of the BALH and the reliance upon the members to keep the Association up-to-date with news to populate either The Local Historian, or Local History News, both of which are published by the BALH. There was also mention of the pressures of staffing and budgets, a theme that would recur throughout the day.
Jane finished her talk by discussing the threats to Local History groups and the BALH, with issues such as the involvement of young people, the health of societies and their reliance upon volunteers; technology, and the changes in the education systems for both young people and adults all impacting on membership of organisations.
Claire Skinner (Wiltshire Local History Forum)
Claire offered a view from Wiltshire and a similar Local History organisation to DHN. She discussed the history of WLHF and its role as an umbrella body for societies to unite, share ideas and promote interest. Originally an independent body, WLHF was united with Wiltshire and Swindon Archives in the early 2010’s. The organisation currently has around 200 members (either organisations or individuals).
Claire talked about the various events WLHF undertake annually, including an academic conference, and a day-school on a variety of topics. She also mentioned the half-yearly newsletter, the development of a website, and that WLHF provide a loan fund for local publications. She stressed that in her role as Chair she viewed the Forum as an enabling body, rather than as one which undertook the work to deliver events.
The talk was concluded with a brief discussion of the future, and Claire told the group that lessons were being learnt from the Swindon and District History Network, an organisation run through local libraries, but one which operated without ‘official’ roles, committees or constitutions. Claire also discussed the issue of attracting young people and the growing importance of social media. She concluded her talk by emphasising the importance of partnerships with the various groups of members, such as museums or archaeological groups, and the mutual benefits these could bring.
Katherine Barker and Jacqui Halewood (DHN)
Katherine and Jacqui offered the group a look-back at the history of DHN, from its development in 2007 as the Dorset Heritage Forum through to the present day. Katherine explained that after the initial enthusiasm in 2007, the momentum waned from 2011 as people left the group. She also stressed her belief in the importance of face-to-face meetings in a digital age, one that was shared around the room.
Jacqui then discussed what the Network has done since 2011, including talks, workshops, and annual “What’s new in Dorset” events. The group were given an update of the build-up of the membership (approximately 50/50 between organisations and individual members), and Jacqui emphasised the problem of dwindling numbers for the Network. Jacqui concluded by discussing the problems of time and availability for the Network, and informed the group that the DHN newsletter was no longer published because of this problem.
The Way Forward
The day was then opened up to the floor. Attendees were split into groups to discuss the following questions:
- What should a History Network do?
- What are the strengths and weaknesses of the current Network?
- What could be done better, and how?
- How can the membership contribute to this?
- What might DHN look like in 5 years time?
These discussions were very useful, and the committee will be meeting shortly to discuss the suggestions and other issues arising from the day. Information on this will be cascaded to the members via the website in due course.
Dorset History Network would like to thank Jane and Claire for attending the event and offering their thoughts and experiences to the group.