Can you help this heritage project? Bringing “Paisley’s Past” into the 21st Century with community archaeology


A note from Jeff: Some of the most powerful “heritage experiences” I’ve had resulted from public archaeology projects. Like social media, they are rooted in the concepts of openness, interactivity and action. A lot of individuals and groups in heritage fields just don’t know where to start with a grassroots campaign. There are no “perfect” answers, but the path is made clearer through the shared experience of others and discovering you aren’t alone.

When Claire wrote me about the new community archaeology project being started in Scotland, I thought this would be a good opportunity to feature an in-progress case study about the project.  It’s also a way for you to share your ideas and experiences in launching a community heritage project, including how to communicate it online. Claire bravely answered the call and agreed to blog the project’s progress over the next few months. I hope the Paisley’s Past story–and your feedback–will serve as encouragement for many more community archaeology projects throughout the world. Here’s the first post in the series that outlines the concept …

The Paisley’s Past Project came about after I had spent a number of years complaining about the state that Paisley was being allowed to fall into. I had always wondered why no-one seemed to be willing to do something about it, while doing nothing about it myself.

Claire Casey in the field.

It wasn’t until the September of 2010, after having a brief email discussion with Scott Manson from Paisley2020 that we made the decision that a community archaeology project would be a brilliant way of getting local people involved in the proposed redevelopment of Paisley’s town centre. To find a project manager, I didn’t have to look too far as the baton was swiftly passed to me and the idea slowly started to become a reality. We are planning that the project will continue for three years on a number of sites throughout Paisley’s town centre.

Paisley, for those of you who may not know the geography of Scotland, lies to the south-west of Glasgow and is the administrative centre of the area of Renfrewshire. The town was home of one of the two Clunic monasteries that were founded in Scotland, of which the town’s abbey is the only part still standing and in use today. The town is also known as the home of the world famous Paisley Pattern and the shawls that it can so often be seen adorning. Other than the Abbey and the town’s industrial past, not much is publicly known about the town’s history and archaeology.

Purpose of the Project

The Paisley’s Past Project is planned to bring local people, students, businesses and organisations together in order to allow for the people of Paisley to play an active role in the investigation and conservation of their own history and heritage. Volunteers will be allowed to take part in surveying, excavation and post-excavation. We will be getting the volunteers involved in working on a number of sites throughout Paisley and will hopefully increase our understanding of the town’s history beyond what we already know about the Paisley Abbey and the town’s industrial past. We will also be giving the volunteers on this project the opportunity to take part in the investigation of the oral history. The volunteers will discover that oral history can add an extra dimension to our understanding of the archaeology and the written histories of the area. All of these will be vital elements to the success of this project.

Volunteers from throughout Paisley will be encouraged to take part in this project, in whatever way that they can, with nothing to stop people of different ages and genders playing their part. People from different backgrounds, whether it is ethnic, social or cultural, will be accepted as volunteers, especially as this project is about inclusivity rather that exclusivity. As part of this, I am planned that the Paisley’s Past Project will play its part in the proposed redevelopment of Paisley’s town centre. We are planning that the Paisley’s Past Project will added to the revitalisation of the town’s museum and art gallery, especially in relation to up-dating the museums displays and widening what these same displays cover.

Even though the Paisley’s Past Project is essentially an archaeology project, I am hoping that the role that the project will play in the wider community will be greater than just a small number of interested people investigating a small number of sites. We are hoping that the work that will be carried out during this project will encourage people to take an interest in what is going on in their area and to take an active role in these same events.

Moving Forward: Ideas Welcome!

Abbey from North West
Paisley Abbey is a former Cluniac monastery, and current Church of Scotland parish kirk, located on the east bank of the White Cart Water in the centre of the town of Paisley, Renfrewshire, in west central Scotland.

At the moment, I am working towards getting as much of the Scottish press interested in this project. This will involve getting newspapers, as well as other news agencies, interested and covering what will be taking place; therefore increasing interest on a wider level. To date, I have set up a Facebook page for the project, which will be one of the main ways that people will be able to keep themselves up-to-date with how the project is developing, as well as what has been taking place. When the ball really starts rolling (no Indiana Jones jokes please), I will be leading public meetings will also take place in order to inform people as to what the aims of the Paisley’s Past Project are, how we will go about achieving them, as well as what we hope that this project will bring to the town.

Community archaeology projects will be great ways of showing that archaeology is not just for the archaeologists, but is for everyone. I am open to ideas and suggestions on how to increase awareness of the project, as well as on other aspects of the project.

Photos courtesy of Claire Casey.

Additional teaser graphic element sourced from:

3 thoughts on “Can you help this heritage project? Bringing “Paisley’s Past” into the 21st Century with community archaeology”

  1. Kudos to you for taking the plunge–also for involving local residents in the surveying and documentation, excavation, labwork, and analysis that accompanies digging (vs. the all too often planting of people at screens, which sends the wrong message). We initiated a short-lived community archaeology program in our town (Natchitoches, LA) when repaving of our main street rendered many of the local shops inaccessible–to the point where their revenues fell by as much as 60%. Unlike your program, we were not the folks actually undertaking the fieldwork. Instead, we were archaeologists, preservationists, educators, and others who live/teach in the community and put together in-store displays, streetscape interpretive panels, and public archaeology days with hands-on activities and demos of knapping, distinguishing soils, ceramic identification, etc. as a means for bringing people (and their wallets) downtown. I wish you well with this venture, and hope that when the dust settles you'll have the opportunity to incorporate some of your findings (not just the artifacts) permanently in the immediate Paisley area. I'm interested to follow your progress via Facebook and this blog. Best of luck to you!


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