Sarah-Joy Maddeaux, You Are Hear Project Officer
If a bench could talk, what would it say? The listening benches being installed across the county by the Essex Record Office do talk, and they tell you stories and play you recordings of local history past and present – recordings like these memories of growing up on Marks Hall Estate by Pearl Scopes and Bill and Daphne Carter (SA 51/2/5/1, full interview available on the Discovering Coggeshall YouTube channel).
Thanks to National Lottery players, eight sound benches are being installed across the county this summer, with two others touring country parks, towns, and villages as part of You Are Hear: sound and a sense of place. At the same time, two interactive audio-video kiosks will tour public places, with a third installed at the Essex Record Office (ERO).
You Are Hear is a three-year, £276,800 project to digitise, catalogue, and make available many of the historically significant sound and video recordings in the ERO’s Essex Sound and Video Archive (ESVA). The project is mainly funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), with additional support from the Essex Heritage Trust and the Friends of Historic Essex.
The sound benches will be loaded with recordings that tell the story of the location in which they are placed. You will be able to choose which recording you’d like to hear, and it will be played to you through the in-built speakers.
Permanent benches will be located in Basildon, Castle Hedingham, Colchester, Great Dunmow, Great Waltham, Harwich, Kelvedon, and Saffron Walden.
The first bench was launched in Castle Park, Colchester, on Saturday 4 June.
You can find the bench near the entrance to the Castle. It features clips from oral history interviews recorded by the Colchester Recalled Oral History Group, who also selected the clips and put them together for the bench. Councillor Annie Feltham, Colchester Borough Council Portfolio Holder for Business, Leisure and Opportunities, said:
“This bench is a great new way for the people of Colchester and visitors to learn about local history through a shared social experience. Hearing real audio clips of voices and sounds, of people who have lived and worked in Colchester over the years, will really bring their stories to life.”
Two more sound benches will be touring the county from June, starting at Stansted Airport and Belhus Woods Country Park. See if you can visit them all! Send us a picture of you with each bench, and tell us which clip was your favourite.
Two audio-video touchscreen kiosks filled with a selection of recordings from the Essex Sound and Video Archive will also be touring from 4 July. The kiosks will first visit Chelmsford Museum and Loughton Library, before embarking on a tour that will take them the length and breadth of Essex.
A third kiosk will be permanently installed at the Essex Record Office in Chelmsford.
The project is working with community groups in villages and towns throughout Essex, helping them to reflect upon where they live by engaging with the recordings. Each group created a montage of clips about their community from recordings in the Archive, which will be played on the sound benches.
Councillor John Spence, Essex County Council Cabinet Member for Finance, with responsibility for Heritage, Culture and the Arts, said:
“So often we rely on the eye to bring archives to life; creating this aural dimension not only lets blind people like me have the experience, it actually immerses you in the sounds of the period, or place.”
Robyn Llewellyn, Head of Heritage Lottery Fund East of England, said:
“this is a fantastic way for local people and visitors to get a sense of the history of these places, and what life was like for local communities over the years. We are delighted that, thanks to National Lottery players, we have been able to fund this project to bring local history, and local benches, to life!”
The two listening benches will visit the following locations this year:
- June – August 2016: Stansted Airport and Belhus Woods Country Park
- September – November 2016: Hatfield Forest and Cudmore Grove Country Park
- December 2016 – February 2017: intu Lakeside Shopping Centre and Thorndon Country Park
- March – May 2017: Battlesbridge Antiques Centre and Cressing Temple
The two audio-video kiosks will visit these venues this year:
- July – September 2016: Chelmsford Museum and Loughton Library
- October – December 2016: Zinc Arts, Ongar and Fingringhoe Wick Visitor Centre
- January – March 2017: Canvey Island Library and Brentwood Library
- April – June 2017: Jaywick Martello Tower and Caxton Books and Gallery, Frinton-on-Sea / The Naze Education and Visitor Centre
For the latest news on tour dates and community installations, keep an eye on our Essex Sounds website.
We are still taking bookings for the second year of the tours, and looking for volunteers to help with the second round of community bench installations. Please get in touch by e-mail or on 033301 32467 if you have any suggestions.
To find out more about the project and subscribe to receive updates, visit http://www.essexrecordofficeblog.co.uk/you-are-hear/
You can also listen to our recordings as they are being digitised through our Soundcloud channel.