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York is full of people who know an enormous amount about the city’s past.

How can we pool and share all this local knowledge, research, memories and storytelling to help us understand the issues York faces today and inform decision-making about the city’s future?

In June we held an event called York: What has heritage ever done for us?.

We explored (after all the Monty Python jokes were told!) how the city’s heritage might help us live well together.

Could York’s heritage – our buildings, streetscapes, archives, photos and memories – be resources not just for tourism and income generation but also for local democracy and for more of us to take part in city decision-making?

Out of the event has emerged an experimental project we’re calling York And Housing: Histories Behind The Headlines.

We’re planning to explore how understanding better the histories of housing in the city might feed into the decision-making on planning and development which will be part of the local plan as discussions start again this autumn.

Sharing the discoveries

Through a collaboration between the University of Leeds’ Centre for Critical Studies in Museums, Galleries and Heritage, Explore York Libraries and Archives and York Past and Present, we’re going to be digging around the city’s archives, doing rapid digitalisation and sharing photographs and sharing what we find and seems relevant through YorkMix, our own blog, social media and York Past and Present Facebook group.

First event – Hearth and home: housing in medieval and modern York

Start: Mansion House, St Helens Square, York

Sat Nov 7 @ 2pm; guided Walk, duration 90 minutes

Eventbrite page

Alongside this we’re going to be publishing short articles and blogs from lots of different people coming at the question of York and housing from different perspectives.

City of York Council leader Chris Steward and deputy leader Keith Aspden will explain the council’s approach to housing and the local plan.

Phil Bixby, chair of York Environment Forum, will look at more creative approaches to community involvement in city design, while conservation expert Alison Sinclair will consider the histories of social housing in York.

The big idea behind the York and Housing: Histories Behind the Headlines project was beautifully put by Victoria Hoyle, City Archivist at the June event:

I would like to see it used more as a resource by Council officers and also by residents, to access information about how the city governs itself.

I would like to think that there is a future where ‘look it up in the archive’, ‘visit the archive’, ‘have you thought about the archive?’, is the first step in designing solutions to problems and celebrating our past achievements.

This relates also to a more driven and engaged approach to heritage and archives as part of the city’s democratic life which, Victoria argued, requires a different approach to ‘cataloguing’ and ‘digitising’, one we’re going to try out as part of the project:

Rather than prioritising our decisions about how we make the archive accessible based on what was important in the past, we think perhaps about new priorities, about what is important now, and being more responsive.

So, for example, if there is a debate in York at present over housing and sustainability and the green belt, perhaps the archive relating to that material should be prioritised for accessibility?

We’re on the hunt for more collaborators. We’d really like to hear from you if you’d like to come to any of the events being run as a part of the project, if you’d like to come and explore the archives or if you’ve got an article or opinion piece (historical or current) you’d like to write.

  • York: What has heritage ever done for us? was part of a research project How should heritage decisions be made? funded by the Arts and Humanities Connected Communities programme and coordinated by the University of Leeds.
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