Guernsey: Notes from a very small island

The National Trust of Guernsey

The questions of how best to serve a unique island heritage such as Guernsey while providing a truly valuable and engaging educational experience through this heritage are very much at the forefront of all considerations faced by the National Trust of Guernsey. The questions of how to maximise and effectively use the heritage from the Trust’s museum to the variety of historic buildings under the Trust’s ownership are very much the same issues shared by the global community. The educational value of preserving examples of buildings and sites which reflect the history of the island can only be truly assessed by what can be practically done with the building in being able to deliver effective and accessible programmes to educate and inform both locals and visitors to our island.

The main focus for education we have is through our Folk & Costume Museum sited in the old stable complex of the former manor house of the De Saumarez family. Being the main Trust destination for groups wishing to learn of island history the focus is offering as complete a history of island culture over the past 250 years be it either domestic, school or work life reflected in a variety of tableau displays with artefacts to bring to life the experience for the visitor. Major industries of fishing, quarrying Guernsey granite, farming with Guernsey cows and the production of Guernsey tomatoes are all displayed on this one site which does educate the public on the range of industries and their various support industries on an island community such as Guernsey but also highlights a failure from the past which must not be repeated.

Few of these industries have had sites effectively preserved and protected for future generations where the history of the building directly links in with a display meaning they can work together to enhance the educational experience. The most recent example, the Guernsey Tomato industry was still thriving in the 1970’s but now only the remains of derelict or half demolished greenhouses are all that exists of much of this industry that was synonymous with Guernsey for over 100 years. Education through heritage be it historic sites or museums draws from the environment to the engage and improve the communication of ideas to their audience. Describing an old Guernsey farmhouse with it’s local features is vastly improved as an educational experience if you are able to impart these ideas while standing within the building itself.

The Trust’s work in restoring a Victorian Sweet Shop in St Peter Port, the main town in Guernsey and the restoration of a Guernsey farmhouse at Les Caches near Guernsey airport has reflected a move towards selecting exemplar buildings to reflect chosen parts of Guernsey’s history. The Trust’s most recent project in acquiring a former granite trading house at the island’s northern harbour of St Sampson reflects the continuing desire by the Trust to preserve these examples of the island’s heritage. The challenge now for the Trust in the future is now these buildings have been invested in we must decide how best to mobilise these resources to educate and inform.

Education cannot be simply about schools or other education focused institutions but is a process which all visitors to our sites should hopefully experience. Life long learning in Guernsey’s context is about informing tourists and locals alike both the unique history of this small island but also the place it holds within the global context. We in Guernsey need to show how much added value sites have to the learning process for all who visit them and are able to fully engage with our history through the combination of the site, displays and activities provided which define the visitor’s experience. Space on a small island is always limited so we must make sure that every building and site under our control is effective in communicating this history to all to enable it to justify it’s continued preservation as part of the fundamental heritage of the island.

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