England, Wales and NI: Learning and Interpretation at a World Heritage Site

The National Trust for England, Wales and Northern Ireland

At Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal we are always looking at new ways to involve visitors, local communities and schools and colleges in activities to learn about the Studley Royal Park, including the Ruins of Fountains Abbey World Heritage Site. Our Learning Officer, Cassandra White, organises a programme of formal learning activities for schools and informal learning activities for our visitors and local communities.

Over 13,000 children visit the site a year with their school. These school visits encourage children to visit and value the site and develop a passion for its future conservation. One of our most popular activities for schools is ‘A Day in the Life of a Monk’ which gives children an insight to what life was like for the Cistercian Monks when they lived in the abbey.

Day in the life of a monk

Day in the life of a monk

We also work closely with local theatre group ‘North Country Theatre’ to create a day long history-through-drama event where children can experience life in the Tudor period. Children play roles alongside the professional actors and use the Elizabethan/Jacobean Fountains Hall (see photo) and the 12th century Cistercian Mill to investigate the lives of the mistress of the Hall, the miller, the seafaring adventurer and the steward and how they were affected by the Age of Discovery. This helps children understand the lives of rich and poor people in Tudor times and the effects of Tudor exploration.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe have been using the World Heritage in Young Hands pack to develop some fun activities for our annual World Heritage Weekend which we hold the weekend nearest to International Sites and Monuments Day. We use this weekend to raise awareness of our World Heritage Site status and Outstanding Universal Value. This year we have a World Heritage marquee with an exhibition all about World Heritage, our site and other sites in the UK. Last year, we invested in a large fabric map and challenged families to stick fabric models of World Heritage Sites on the correct location on the map and then look up the reasons for inscription. We also have Bradford University tutors and students coming along to carry out a geophysical survey of the West Green of Fountains Abbey to explore the location and form of the ‘missing’ third abbey guesthouse which once stood on this site. The survey work will  include lots of opportunities for visitors to talk to the archaeologists and find out more about the history of the abbey and modern archaeological survey methods.

ICOMOS UK now sit on our World Heritage Site Steering Group and we are working with their representative, Peter Goodchild, to develop the potential for the site to provide education aimed at improving the appreciation, conservation and care of landscape and garden heritage. The Draft Statement of Outstanding Universal Value describes the 18th century landscape garden at Studley Royal as ‘one of the most spectacular water gardens in England’ and ‘an outstanding example of the development of the ‘English’ garden style throughout the 18th century’. The site provides an ideal location to demonstrate and learn about the principles of conservation and sustainability in practice.

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