Pigeon Post… WWI Commemoration funding from HLF and MGS

In conversation with Megan Braithwaite, Development Manager at Heritage Lottery Fund, Devon McHugh (MGS’s Relationships & Partnerships Development Manager) discusses how museums can access match funding to create projects that mark World War 1. Ever dedicated to authenticity, Megan and Devon held this conversation via carrier pigeon… as all important communications should be held. 

: Hi Megan, I am so excited that we are able to run an additional tranche this year for our World War I fund! The deadline for this is 17 February, so we are just starting to hear about all the terrific commemoration projects that are coming in from our museums. I know many of them are looking to match their funding with a contribution from HLF’s WWI funding.

: Hi Devon! That’s great news about more funding for commemorating the First World War in Scotland, and combining funding is an excellent suggestion – our First World War: then and now is funding of up to £10,000, and we’d love to see some inventive projects from museums and galleries! Have you any favourite projects of those you’ve funded in previous years, Devon?

I think one of the most impactful projects that we have funded was one of our earliest: Dol Fodha na Grèine (At the Going Down of the Sun). This project was developed by Comunn Eachdraidh Nis, and explored the legacy of the War on the Western Isles, particularly Lewis. The project was wide-ranging, and included an exhibition within the heritage centre, a book that included stories and poems about the War, and a series of portraits commissioned of those who fought and died in the conflict. Strikingly, an aspect of the project involved placing poppies on the homes of those who had lost their lives in the war—the loss of life for Lewis was staggering, and the War really had an enormous impact on life in the subsequent years.

But the paintings and poetry that resulted from this project was also beautiful, and speaks of hope and remembrance in a really effective way, bringing the project into the 21st century for both local people, and those who are affected across the world. I think that element of the projects we have seen—creating a link between the past and the present/future, is incredibly important, and a really crucial driver for this fund. I am looking forward to seeing the creative ways museums will potentially interpret that through their future projects. What kinds of projects are you looking toward funding this year?…

Megan: I’ve love to see more on the more ‘unconventional’ aspects of the war – looking beyond the war memorials (though a key part of our heritage, of course!), as some of the stories that relate to those that stayed, those that objected, those that returned and those that served from home. I think there’s still so much of this that we’ve yet to touch upon.

Devon: I couldn’t agree more, Megan! I think sometimes we tend to think first of our military collections for WWI commemoration, and we have had a lot of great projects from military museums, or that explore themes that are tied directly to the War itself. But the First World War had such an influence on the Home Front, and on society more generally: women’s suffrage, changes to immigration/emigration patterns, the dismantling of Empire all had an incredible effect on life that can be explored through material culture. Some of our upcoming projects, like HighLife Highland’s Coming Home: The Impact of the First World War on the Highlands (which will start this year), look to explore these kinds of issues. I am really interested to see what develops from this, and from other projects that look at the more indirect effects of the War.

How does the process for HLF’s First World War: Then and Now funding work? Is there a deadline? Are there specific priorities for your funding that are different from those here at MGS?

Megan: The First World War: then and now programme has been running since 2013, and we plan to continue it through to early 2019 to take into account the whole of the centenary period. There are no deadlines, and it takes us about 8-12 weeks to assess and make a decision. The aim of the programme is to try and connect people and communities to the First World War – whether that is looking at the legacy left in their communities, such as recording the memories of the children of serving soldiers, the physical remnants of war such as the munitions factories near Gretna, or creative ways to connect people to the war – my favourite of these was a simple trail, researched by a youth group, highlighting the houses of serving soldiers in the village with a poppy so that the 21st century population really felt connected to those men and women of 100 years ago. Any organisation can apply, as long as they’re not for profit and have a constitution, so it’s perhaps a good opportunities for those Museums and Galleries considering the MGS WW1 fund to augment their projects with funding from HLF, or for local community organisations to run parallel projects alongside. We simply ask that there are activities within the project that will help make this connection.

How does this compare with the requirements for the MGS WW1 fund, Devon?

Devon: The WWI fund has really been initiated by MGS and the Scottish Government support museums to work with communities to commemorate World War I. As we has discussed, this is not just about military commemoration, but we hope that museums will use this fund to explore the wider impact and legacy of the War and its continuing influence on modern life. We particularly encourage projects that look to work collaborative or in partnership, especially those with a strong creative and performing arts element, those that work with young people, and projects that help improve access to and understanding of collections from this period.

Details on the fund, and how to apply, can be found on our website.

As we head toward 2018 and the centenary of the end of the War, we are also really interested in how armistice will be interpreted by our museums. We have already had a few applications for commemoration of events that fall toward the end of the war (or even after it:  Comhairle nan Eilean Siar will commemorate the worst peacetime shipping disaster in British coastal waters with Iolaire 100 in 2019), but I hope that as we head toward 2018 we will begin to see more projects of this kind, that explore ideas around peace and reconciliation, or even look at some challenging issues, such as reparation or mental health for veterans.

Applications for the MGS World War 1 Fund close Friday 17 February 2017. The HLF First World War: Then and Now programme is accepting applications until 2019. 

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