Essex students have unique opportunity to shape new museum in seaside town

Story from University of Essex Website

University of Essex students are helping bring to life a museum which will preserve the social history and heritage of the seaside towns of Frinton and Walton.

Thanks to funding received by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, and a collaboration between the Cultural Engine Research Group (CERG) and the Frinton and Walton Heritage Trust (F&WHT), students have been given the chance to help shape the new museum, including digitising the archive and then helping to promote it.

Two PhD students from Essex Business School (EBS) and five Masters students from the School of Philosophical, Historical, and Interdisciplinary Studies (PHAIS) will help deliver the Trust’s project, gaining practical experience of working in a museum environment along the way.

The grant of over £235,000 was awarded to the Trust to deliver their project, and planning permission was granted in the spring to change the use of a former ambulance station in Pole Barn Lane in Frinton into a new heritage centre, museum, and place of community use.

The Trust currently has over 40,000 items within its archive, stored in a temporary base, and students will be involved in digitising the archive.

Dr Tony Sampson, reader in digital communications in EBS, was instrumental in bringing the project to the University through his role as a co-director of the Cultural Engine Research Group.

The Group, which provides support for organisations who are making a difference in their communities and improving local economies, partnered up with the F&W Heritage Trust, and then Dr Sampson brought the project with him when he moved to Essex in 2023.

“The project presents an exciting opportunity for staff and research students enrolled in two of the University’s Schools. It gives students the chance take part in valuable community engagement work, and business students get first-hand experience of how a Community Interest Company works,” he said.

The project will include conducting research, archiving materials, and planning and organising trial exhibits within the community.

“The Cultural Engine Research Group’s role in this project is to primarily explore the relationship between how people feel about the places they live and local community empowerment. Together with culture and the arts, heritage is heralded by national and local government policymakers as a cornerstone of stimulating community pride,” Dr Sampson explained.

Rasha Elsawy, a PhD research student and assistant lecturer in EBS, was drawn to the project due to its rich historical significance and the opportunity it presented to contribute to preserving heritage.

“Being part of the project fills me with pride and a sense of responsibility. It’s rewarding to play a role in shaping the narrative of our community’s history,” she said.

“This project is not just about preserving Frinton and Walton’s heritage; it is also about my personal and academic growth. Engaging with historical archives will significantly enhance my research skills, and collaborating with experts in the field will open doors to networking opportunities and valuable insights into the world of heritage preservation.”

Fellow student, Abigail Skilling, who is studying MA Art History, is excited about the opportunities the project offers.

“As a Frinton local, I find it important to preserve local history to protect the foundational stories of our communities,” she said.

“This project offers our team valuable insight and hands-on experience within the heritage field, which is like gold-dust nowadays. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to impact and provide for my local community through this project.”

The project will bring the Trust’s new premises to life, and will also offer outreach activities to the community alongside exhibitions.

John Barter, Chairman of the Frinton and Walton Heritage Trust, said: “We are delighted to receive this funding, which will not only bring the building back into use but will drive new partnerships, help University of Essex students gain practical experience, allow for better customer and volunteer experiences, and help secure the Trust’s future.”

The initial planning stages of the project are underway, and the team hope the museum will open its doors in 2025.

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