Lest we forget Belton's bravest
Supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund's Young Roots programme, a group of young people played a significant part in a project to re-discover a First World War military training camp in Belton Park.
A family archaeology event at Belton House inspired some of the young people attending to express an interest in learning more about the history of the camp and the young people in it, and developing new skills. Their interest coincided with the Belton team considering options for marking the centenary of the Machine Gun Corps (MGC) based at a First World War training camp in Belton Park. Discussions began with Grantham Explorer Scouts and funding options were considered.
Belton Park camp was established in 1914 and became the main depot and training centre for the newly formed MGC from October 1915. It remained active until 1922, accommodating around 20,000 men at any one time as they progressed through their training.
Though few records of the camp existed after the war ended, archaeological evidence of its presence was preserved undisturbed, under grassland once the camp closed. The site was subsequently designated as a Grade I listed park under the stewardship of Natural England which protects its archaeological significance and encourages public engagement and interest in the site.
Young Roots programme
The project team identified the Heritage Lottery Fund's (HLF) Young Roots programme as a potential source of direction and funding. This initiative gives young people aged 11–25 the chance to plan and deliver their own heritage projects. They’re supported along the way by heritage and youth organisations.
The involvement of young people in projects of this nature helps them develop new skills and interests, volunteer their time to preserve local heritage, connect with their local communities and have fun together. They also bring fresh ideas and enthusiasm to these projects.
Lest we forget Belton's bravest
The project recruited 18 young people from applicants who responded to a marketing campaign in local schools, colleges, youth groups and on social media. The group was responsible for a significant part of the planning and development of the project, which they named ‘Lest we forget Belton’s bravest’.
Once approved by the HLF, the Young Roots programme provided the project with £24,900 of funding. This financial assistance was matched by the support of staff and volunteers from the Belton team together with national and regional National Trust and other stakeholder specialists.
The programme, which lasted a year, comprised a mixture of classroom and field work. The young people worked with heritage specialists, artists and actors who provided valuable skills, guidance and inspiration.
" For me, both personally and professionally, I have found being a storyteller and creative writer on this project a profoundly moving experience… helping the young people shape and share their own story and find their collective voice to express this story to an audience."
The young people compiled landscape, geophysical and archaeology surveys, carried out a 7 day excavation of the site and analysed their finds. They produced two pieces of artwork, wrote poetry, prepared a scrapbook and interpretation and created a remembrance walk inspired by the site and their new found knowledge. They also produced a film about their work and experiences.
The project had a huge impact on the lives of the young people involved. They developed new skills associated with research, project management, interpretation, social awareness, team working and leadership. In some cases these experiences helped determine future career aspirations. There were also many other positive outcomes.
The significance of the site has become much more evident as a result of the project. Its surveys have enabled more informed management decisions to be made on appropriate use of the site in future.
" It is very rare for the archaeological evidence for camps of this period and size to survive in any form above ground on the scale that is exhibited at Belton Park."
An archaeological handling collection is now available for use by the Learning and Ranger departments at Belton House to interpret the parkland for a diverse range of visitors.
There is now greater awareness within the local community about the importance of the Belton Camp during the First World War. As a result of publicity about the project and events for local people, many visitors engaged with the site for the first time and in some cases discovered a family connection.
Feedback from those who came into contact with the young people participating in the project was incredibly positive, with many commenting on the pleasure it gave them to be part of the Young Roots programme and witness its success.
" ...even from the short I spent with them, it's become clear to me that the full legacy of what you've done will only become visible far beyond the horizon, probably for generations to come."
We are extremely grateful to the Heritage Lottery Fund and players of the National Lottery for supporting this valuable project.