Local History Cafe

The Local History Café programme was established by Crafting Relationships in October 2017 as heritage and wellbeing get-togethers for over 50s, at risk of, experiencing or looking to keep at bay, social isolation and loneliness.

The Local History Cafe started off as monthly, face-to-face get-togethers at partner sites, across the East Midlands. In March 2020, partners were Calke Abbey, the Sir John Moore Foundation, Erewash Museum, Charnwood Museum, Kirby Muxloe Community Library and Hub and New Walk Museum, (now Leicester Museum and Art Gallery).

In response to the COVID-19 outbreak and subsequent March 2020 first lockdown in England, all six of our partners’ sites were forced to close their doors to the public. At the time, we optimistically thought face-to-face would recommence in the Autumn. In the meantime, Crafting Relationships applied for funding to set up an online presence with a closed Facebook group, to see us through. We are very grateful to Health Matters at the University of Leicester, Leicestershire County Council and the Leicestershire Archaeological and Historical Society for their support.

Up until March 2020, in person cafes were our sole focus. Although some form of online presence for Local History Cafes beyond the blog space had been discussed in idea form, face-to-face work remained our priority, so setting up a Local History Café Online Facebook group was entering new territory.

This report was written by Katherine Brown, Director Crafting Relationships and Founder of the Local History Cafe programme and Kate Crossley, freelance Local History Café Online Project Manager. Sections of an initial report in July 2020 by Beth Holmes, former Heritage Education Director, have been amalgamated.

In it we examine the last year, what happened, what we learned and what comes next. The authors have written this report as both a reflective and live document. We have looked at relevant literature and attended online webinars on topics including using digital in a time of COVID, older peoples use of technology and staying connected. We applied learning along the way and by presenting our findings and thoughts, we aim to support the development of the digital and face-to-face Local History Café programme.

To keep our report short and also ensure it is a useful working document for ourselves and all our stakeholders, we cover the following themes:

  • Creating and sharing quality heritage and wellbeing content.

  • Building a community.

  • Choice of platform.

Key questions we asked ourselves:

  • How possible has it been to replicate the face-to-face Local History Café model by moving the programme online?

  • What have been the main successes and barriers?

  • Have we met our outcomes?

  • What next?

Data used for this report has been taken from: Local History Café Online Facebook group content, group member case studies, polls, comments from the Project Manager, speakers, the Crafting Relationships Director, and partners involved in our regular Local History Cafes who have been contributing to website content. Data from the first three case studies was gathered through interviews on Facebook Messenger, linked to the Facebook group, as well as those individual’s interaction within the Facebook group, with the remaining gathered by email. It is important to recognise that any data collected is based on limited data due to the type of relationships that we can ethically and safely form with our online community.

For additional context, an initial evaluation of the face-to-face Local History Café programme was released in August 2019. The programme and/or report has been referenced in the Leicestershire County Council Loneliness Toolkit and the Heritage Alliance 2020 Heritage, Health and Wellbeing report. In September 2019, Crafting Relationships was awarded a Highly Commended Award for Partnership working for Local History Café. Please see www.craftingrelationships.co.uk for copies and more information.

The main findings from this report are that Local History Café Online has provided a positive, supplementary space for community members during the coronavirus pandemic. During this time there has been an explosion of free, high quality and accessible digital content, and we are proud to have contributed to this by starting a group to remain connected.

The group has helped some people feel more connected during lockdown and has provided a way for its members to engage with heritage material while other face-to-face activities have been closed. While we are not able to claim our Facebook group achieved the same level of impact for anyone at risk of, experiencing or looking to keep at bay social isolation and loneliness as our face-to-face gatherings do, it has been a safe space, without argument or inappropriate controversy sometimes associated with social media, for people to come together around the hook of heritage.

Partner Involvement

Katherine Brown

07908 750187

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