Julia Bennett: Afterlife of Heritage, Research to Public Blog No 1
It was with some trepidation that I approached the first Research to Public workshop at the end of January. I had applied for the funding under both this and the Research to Profession strand on the basis of ‘if you don’t apply, you won’t get it’. As a sociologist I thought I was perhaps entering into alien territory by applying for AHRC funding. However with a PhD littered with references to the work of anthropologists, architects and archaeologists, as well as sociologists, I felt it was worth a try. Actually attending a workshop with artists and poets and people who seem to be spending their PhD years researching things rather than talking to people, as I had, was still pretty daunting though. Name tags were laid out on the tables so I didn’t have the option of scanning the room for familiar faces (there weren’t any). I needn’t have worried – everyone was friendly and the variety of research topics intriguing. I sat with Daisy studying Mystery Plays; and Lauren an anthropologist from Texas via Belfast studying dance (I didn’t know that was anthropology too); and Charlotte looking at old photos which sounds fascinating too.
The workshop itself was engaging and interactive. I loved the envelopes full of words and have resolved to use that idea when teaching. The importance of reflective practice was a timely reminder – I always start out with the best intentions to write a research diary every week, but it often slips from view with other tasks taking priority. Loved the idea of the onion too and have already used that in my ‘day job’ as a research associate to focus on impact on the schools we are working with.
Leaving the first workshop full of enthusiasm I emailed my proposed cultural partner shortly afterwards. The first person I contacted couldn’t help, but she would pass on my request. I waited for a reply. Let a week go by. Emailed again, trying not to sound too worried (did no reply mean they weren’t interested?). No, just that the boss is on holiday for a week. Waited another week. Eventually the response was that we love your ideas but are busy restructuring our organisation and wouldn’t be able to work with you in the timeframes needed. By this point my enthusiasm for the whole thing was waning a little. I had also contacted another organisation with no response from them either. By now it was late February with the second workshop looming. Shall I go, or is my proposal dead in the water through lack of a cultural partner? Oh well, it will be nice to see people again and catch up and there’s a free lunch …
So the second workshop. I sat on a table with lots of ‘unattached’ cultural partners, it did feel a bit like speed-dating (I’m guessing, I’ve never been speed-dating). We introduced ourselves so I was able to get an idea of who might be interested in my proposal, which I had conveniently brought with me. I was looking for an organisation in the right kind of place or community, as my research is all about place and belonging. Saskia from Z-Arts in Hulme seemed nice, and didn’t have a partner. Hulme – I knew it was in Manchester, but that’s all. So I asked Saskia to look at my proposal during the coffee break. And yes, she thought there were some good ideas in there, as well as some, such as the competition element I’d suggested, that wouldn’t work too well. So after lunch we sat down together and clarified our ideas, thinking about what the impact would be and coming up with some rough costings.
I went home again reinvigorated with enthusiasm for the project and wrote up our revised proposal, sent if off and waited. And then, just in time for Easter, got the fantastic news that we had the funding!