To mark the Centenary of the First World War, the National Lottery Heritage Fund developed the First World War: Then and Now scheme, offering generous grants to support a wide range of community-led projects that explored the local, regional and national heritage of the First World War across the United Kingdom. Thanks to this funding, between 2014 and 2018 almost 2000 community projects were realised, creating an unprecedented volume of digital content – from scans of photographs and letters, through to websites and databases. Almost no projects had plans to preserve their research for future use, and with the end of the Centenary of the War, there was a serious concern that these valuable resources would be lost.
The WW1 Community Platform and archive represents a pilot study that attempts to rectify not only this specific problem but also address the wider issue of archiving all community-generated digital legacies with unsecure futures. The platform enables users to freely access digital materials from these NLHF-funded projects, and continue to explore the social and cultural impacts of the First World War through the efforts of community researchers.
The first step was to issue a survey through NLHF to all funded Centenary projects to ascertain what digital content had been been created – websites, digital images, film, e-teaching resources, and to determine if the project teams were willing to share their content.
The end-to-end process was quite labour intensive. Firstly, the team spent time in discussion with project leads to establish in more detail information on their collections, especially with regard to formats and structure of their content. Once material was received, it was collated, digital industry standards applied and imputed into our designed Database and in-house platform infrastructure. At all stages of the project, contributors were actively involved, from their thoughts on platform design through to the final user interface. We also trialled the design and usability with multiple focus groups of all ages and abilities.
The process was a valuable lesson in effective community engagement. Trust is a crucial element in public outreach initiatives and therefore building rapports with our contributors was fundamental, making sure that the research and work that they had put into their projects was treated sensitively.
The WW1 Community Platform itself stands as a fitting legacy to the efforts of a plethora of local and national community-based projects, which collectively represent our recognition and appreciation of the contributions made a hundred years ago by all those who served in the ‘Great War’. Through the Centenary community projects that studied the lives of men and women on the home front and in theatres of war between 1914 and 1918, we get a glimpse of their everyday lives, their traumas and triumphs through adversity. Now, as we reflect not only on the ending of the War but also the conclusion of its Centenary, the WW1 Community Platform represents a lasting testimony to all those from across these islands who sought to connect past and present through using 21st-century digital technologies.
The WW1 Community Platform was made possible through generous funding from the the Arts and Humanities Research Council. We are grateful to our colleagues at the National Lottery Heritage Fund who developed the ‘First World War: Then and Now’ grant scheme, and supported community research projects into the legacy of the First World War. In particular, we wish to thank Karen Brookfield, formerly of the National Lottery Heritage Fund, who was instrumental to the success of this venture.
We are indebted to the many project contributors for making such valued contributions to public understandings of WW1 histories, heritage and legacies, and for graciously sharing their research with us and allowing us to use it on our platform.
Sincere thanks must go to the project management, research and design team – Elaine Reid, David Hardy, Dr Heather Montgomery, Dr Rachel Tracey, Joshua Montgomery and Artisan Web NI – whose expertise was vital in bringing this platform to fruition.