All Our Stories – Heritage Lottery Fund invests to uncover Scotland’s colourful past

Craigmillar Castle

The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) has announced that 50 projects across Scotland have been chosen to receive grants to let local communities delve into their past. Over £427,000 will be spent as part of the “All Our Stories” programme.

Developed alongside BBC Two’s history series, The Great British Story – A People’s History, the programme has been designed to get thousands of people more involved in exploring the local history, customs and traditions that are important to them. The money will help them find out more about their own local heritage at a grass roots level.

Originally launched in April, the idea was so popular that HLF has quadrupled the amount it had originally set aside. The kinds of organisation that will benefit from the grants, which range from £3,000 to £10,000, include residents’ associations and local history groups, larger heritage organisations and charities. The aim is to bring communities together by helping them explore the past, and supporting them by providing the skills and expert advice – delivered by top academics – to find out about their local community’s history in a lasting and well-informed way.

Presented by historian Michael Wood, the BBC Two series was broadcast earlier this year and gave people the chance to get more personally involved with the heritage in their own backyard. As he explains, “We British love our history, and no wonder: few nations in the world, if any, have such riches on their doorstep, and so much of it accessible to all of us.

“It is fantastic that so many people have been inspired to get involved, both from The Great British Story series, and HLF’s All Our Stories. Thanks to lottery players people can now dig deeper into their own past and I’m certain many surprising stories will be uncovered which will not only bring to life the excitement of local history, but will illuminate every community’s connection with the national narrative.”

Colin McLean, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund in Scotland, added that the grants had “struck a chord. We were overwhelmed by the interest shown by people of all ages and backgrounds and from all parts of Scotland, and I am delighted we have been able to find the money to support them. The stories are as diverse as they are plentiful”

A good example of the projects being supported is in what’s believed to be the oldest housing estate in Scotland – Craigmillar in Edinburgh. The area’s currently going through yet another transformation so the project’s been designed to document the changing face of what was once a place best known for its deprivation.

But it wasn’t always like that. Dominated by the medieval Craigmillar Castle where Mary Queen of Scots lived for a time, it enjoyed economic success in the early years of the 20th century with its thriving brewing and coal industries. Today, the area is the focus of a series of regeneration initiatives that are taking place which again will change it out of all recognition.

Elderly residents from the community will research and document that change. They will learn new computer skills to tap into online resources, learn to read historical maps, visit museums and document reminisces to create a ‘community tree’.

Then there’s the International Haggis Journey. Love it or loathe it, the humble haggis has been centre table in Scottish traditions and folklore since medieval times. However, it’s inspired a group of Glasgow refugees and asylum seekers to explore its origins and introduce people to equivalent dishes from their homelands.

Ladies from Algeria, Sudan, Libya, Iraq, Kurdistan, Syria, Palestine and Somalia have come together with a common love of cooking to research the story of the haggis, and explore the connection the spices used to make it have with their home countries. The project will culminate with a Burns Day exhibition at which visitors will be invited to try ‘haggis’ from around the world.

The started with an archaeological dig and ended with the children of Tayvallich Primary School in Argyll joining forces with those from from Portrush in Northern Ireland to research the story of their shared Iron Age and medieval heritage.

Once a strong sea trading route, the connection between the two places had long been lost; so the children will be researching local archives, taking part in workshops run by Kilmartin Museum, investigating a medieval fort and taking to canoes to experience the land from the sea. They will be trained to use digital cameras, and will blog their findings while creating a resource box for the community with weapons, costumes and jewelry from the era.

Although the All Our Stories programme is now closed to further applications, HLF will be launching a new £3,000 – £10,000 community heritage grants programme, ‘Sharing Heritage’, in February next year. It will use a similar, simple to access application process and will also be designed to reach new applicants working at grass roots.

As Colin McLean points out, “The common thread is people’s curiosity and enthusiasm in uncovering and celebrating what has shaped their community. I am heartened that community spirit appears to be still around and delighted that HLF can help support it.”