Jemma Fowkes

A Q&A with Jemma Fowkes from Gloucester Archives

Q: Voices Gloucester and the team at Gloucester Archives have an invaluable collaboration to engage with school children and teachers in the city. Can you tell us about the Heritage Schools Programme and your role?

A: I am a Community Heritage Officer at Gloucestershire Archives and I generally work with visiting groups, which can include schools, universities, and local history groups. This often means giving a talk or presentation, taking the group on a behind-the-scenes tour and showing them some of the documents which we look after at the Archives. I used to work as a History Teacher and also as a Museum Learning Officer so you can definitely say that education and history are two of my passions!

Since the end of 2022, I have been working with Jacqui Grange from Voices Gloucester on the Heritage Schools Programme. Heritage Schools is led by Historic England. It gives schools encouragement and skills to engage with their local history by placing pupils at the centre of the enquiry. 

As well as helping schools to create engaging lessons for their students, schools can apply for the Heritage Schools Award. Heritage Schools status demonstrates that schools have an effective local history programme. They receive a plaque to show they have attained the benchmark required.

Funding from Historic England has created a role for me to work with Voices, largely in an administration role. As such, I help create the programme, organise the delivery of a local history training day, as well as also planning and delivering on Heritage Schools’ projects which resulted from the training day. 

In 2023, we ran two such projects; one for primary schools and one for secondary schools. Funding was again provided by Historic England. In addition to this, I also write a schools’ newsletter. The newsletter, created in conjunction with the Gloucester Heritage Forum – a group of Gloucester-based heritage organisations – provides up-to-date events, offers and news for schools. The newsletter goes out to every school in Gloucestershire.

Q: Can you tell us about the project with primary schools from the summer of 2023 – what the aims were – and how the children responded to the experience? 

A: At the Heritage Schools Training Day for Teachers in September 2022, the attending primaries, all from Gloucester, were asked what type of local history project they would do if the money and organisation were provided. They liked the idea of grouping their schools together to create a leaflet about the history of Gloucester’s four main ‘gate’ streets – Westgate, Eastgate, Southgate and Northgate, which date back to the Roman period. The aim was to improve the pupils’ knowledge of the history of Gloucester, as well as creating a sense of pride in where they live.

We were extremely pleased that all six attending primaries agreed to take part in what became known as ‘The Gates Project: a child’s eye view of Gloucester’. It allowed us to allocate each school a different street, splitting Westgate Street into two where there was too much history for one school alone, and also having a group focus specifically on the cathedral precincts.

The Gloucester Civic Trust gamely agreed to lead the different schools on six separate tours, which they did with enthusiasm, and dare I say bravery, amongst the bustle of the town centre and the changeable weather! The children were fascinated by their many stories interwoven with Gloucester’s rich history. The pupils learnt about Jemmy Wood, the inspiration for Dickens’ Scrooge, local battles, and the bloody execution of Bishop Hooper. On one wet day, the Civic Trust even arranged for the school to go under the current street and see the Roman ruins! Marvellous!

We also had the wonderful Catherine Hawkridge, an artist, who helped the pupils to create observational drawings of what they saw on the tours. Catherine accompanied each group back to school to spend an afternoon with them developing their drawings.

Many of these drawings were then chosen to be represented in a fantastic leaflet, full of ‘did-you-knows?’ and lovely children’s drawings of locations and characters on a map of the city centre.

As there wasn’t room for all 180 pupils’ drawings in the leaflet, Catherine also created display boards with their work, which were exhibited at The Folk during the first two weeks of September. These beautiful boards really convey the children’s interest and pride in Gloucester, not to mention artistic flair.

The pupils were superb. We were very impressed with their curiosity and their retention of information. They also produced fantastic artwork and text which really brought the leaflet to life. We have since provided all the schools who took part with enough leaflets for one per child for the whole school. We hope that this project will be something to remember.

Q: Tell us about the event for secondary school students and their teachers that took place in the summer of 2023.

A: Like the primary schools, we encouraged the attending secondaries to think of a project whilst at the Heritage Schools Training Day in September 2022. What they came up with, the Heritage Conference Day for Year 12s, was a very different sort of project to the primaries’. The secondaries wanted a ‘grown up’ history day that would open up the students’ knowledge and interest in history.

It was held on one day: the 12 July 2023 – an ideal time for schools to attend due to less stress surrounding cover. We worked with Dave Slaughter of St Peter’s Catholic School and the Leader of the CLIO Group, a local schools’ group for secondary teachers. Dave was extremely helpful in advising us on how to create the best possible day for schools.

The day was open to schools from across Gloucestershire and like the Gates Street Project, it was free to attend. 100 pupils came along with their teachers. The event was held at the University of Gloucestershire, an amazing and aspirational venue for such a day. We began with a community panel discussing ‘What is heritage?’

Four workshops then took place which the pupils could select in advance. They included Windrush Now, Fake News, What is archaeology? and oral history & storytelling. They all proved to be of huge relevance to current events, both local and further afield.

Our headline speaker was Tracy Borman, a TV presenter and author, who discussed her latest book on Elizabeth I and Anne Boleyn: the mother and daughter who changed history. Tracy’s talk was fascinating and linked in perfectly with many of the students’ current curriculums and interests.

Feedback from the day told us that the day had been very well received and we will be running it again in 2024! The day allowed pupils to consider different aspects of history and its associated subjects, like archaeology. Rather than focusing strictly on curriculum-based subjects, the day also encouraged students to consider other themes. We hope that the legacy of the day will be a broader understanding of history, a love for local history and also encouragement for pupils to study the subject at a higher level.

Q: Can you talk some more about Heritage Schools – what does that mean to have this status and how it benefits the city?

A: We have seen several schools successfully apply for the Heritage Schools Award, a national benchmark for schools with effective local history programmes. Heritage Schools status means that the pupils have engaged with their local communities, local vicinity, and local history. As well as the benefit to the pupils, it has helped teachers feel more confident to teach local history. It is a special award which can lead to overall improvements in people’s lives. This has seen an increased sense of pride for all in their local area. The leaflet will encourage the pupils’ families to explore the local area; many of the workshops undertaken by year 12, will do the same. 

Greater recognition for the richness of Gloucester’s history and all it has to offer, will help people’s sense of well-being. Those who took part will feel honoured to come from Gloucester and over time this will hopefully seep through to benefit the city.

Q: What about the plans for 2024? 

A: At the second Heritage Schools Training Day in 2023, we once again asked the attending schools to consider projects in their local area. Using their suggestions, we intend to organise two more projects in the new year and we are really excited to see what these will be. 

In addition to this, we will be running the Heritage Conference Day for year 12s once again in the summer. I will also be continuing to put together the schools’ newsletter which will promote Gloucester’s heritage and also include new developments in the Heritage Schools Programme.

I feel very fortunate to be working with Jacqui and Voices on such creative, interesting, and successful school projects. It’s been wonderful to see the results of such projects and to witness the increased curiosity and pride in the local area.

If you would like to contact me about the projects, or receive our newsletter, I’d be delighted to hear from you. Please email me at:

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