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UEA’s Akenfield Now project wins National Lottery support

The University of East Anglia (UEA) has been awarded £76,300 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), thanks to money raised by National Lottery players, for a project to continue the oral history of a Suffolk community that began almost 50 years ago.

The project Akenfield Now follows on from Ronald Blythe’s book Akenfield: Portrait of an English Village, which was published in 1969. Depicting life in Suffolk villages, it was based on the recollections of farmers and residents living near the author in the 1960s. The book became an international bestseller and was translated into more than 20 languages.

Led by Dr John Gordon, of UEA’s School of Education and Lifelong Learning, the project will involve Suffolk residents, students from Kesgrave High School in Ipswich, Sir Thomas Mills High School in Framlingham, and UEA.

It aims to introduce young people to oral history and film archiving, and will see students working with the East Anglian Film Archive (EAFA), Norfolk Record Office, BBC Voices, Empty Vessel theatre company and expert oral historians, to make films to match oral history accounts of life in the area.

These will be screened alongside Peter Hall’s 1974 Akenfield film and amateur films of East Anglia drawn from the EAFA collection. The project begins in September and will end in 2019 with national events exploring links between oral history, teaching and learning, and the national curriculum.

School pupils will learn about local heritage by conducting oral history interviews with members of their community. They will also make films based on the interviews, presenting their own interpretation of what they learn.

Post-graduate students from UEA will provide guidance during the location filming, film editing and film archiving. All participants will work with teachers to link these activities to the secondary school curriculum, and especially to A-levels in the subjects of English Literature, English Language, History, Geography and Media Studies.

When published, Blythe’s book became widely studied in high schools and universities in America and Canada. The film enjoyed similar renown, acclaimed on release as “one of the best films - and certainly the most unusual - made in and about England”.

Dr Gordon said: “This project is important because it invites local young people to join the same tradition as the book, to represent their own heritage and community as they experience it in the 21st century. Their work will inform local, national and international understanding of heritage education and highlight its links with the school curriculum.

“We are delighted to receive the support of the National Lottery and are confident the project will support young people to explore, understand and interpret their local heritage with pride. They will learn many new skills to inform their study in school and for life beyond.  We especially look forward to meeting residents of the ‘Akenfield’ villages and learning about how the community has changed since it was presented in book and film.”

Robyn Llewellyn, Head of HLF East of England, said: “Thanks to money raised by National Lottery players, we’re delighted to support this fascinating project which will see volunteers and students following in the footsteps of Ronald Blythe to discover how Akenfield communities and life in Suffolk has changed over the decades.

“As well as reviving that sense of place and pride, the project will enable people of all ages to gain the skills and knowledge needed to share the stories of where they live.”

Image credit: Mark Seton/flickr creative commons

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