Experiencing Britain's Ruins: 'Revenants and Remains' at Five Northern English Religious Houses and Beyond

Lead Research Organisation: Manchester Metropolitan University
Department Name: English


This project aims to enhance the public 'experience' of Britain's ruins by applying research findings derived from PI Prof. Dale Townshend's AHRC Leadership Fellowship, 'Writing Britain's Ruins, 1700-1850: The Architectural Imagination' (AH/M00600X/1; 2015-16), to contemporary practices of heritage interpretation, ruin tourism and creative literary response. Over a 12-month period, PI Townshend and Co-Is Dr Michael Carter and Dr Dominique Bouchard, both of English Heritage (EH), will deliver, administer and ultimately evaluate 'Revenants and Remains', an innovative and exciting programme of free, public-facing digital and real-life activities focused upon, but also radiating outwards beyond, 5 key EH sites of monastic ruin in the north of England: Byland Abbey, North Yorkshire; Furness Abbey, Cumbria; Lanercost Priory, Cumbria; Rievaulx Abbey, North Yorkshire; and Roche Abbey, South Yorkshire. Responding directly to identified needs within the heritage sector at these sites, this multi-faceted programme for knowledge exchange (KE) and impact generation aims to rearticulate, recreate and embed aspects of the original literary-historical research (1700-1850) in present-day virtual and real-life contexts, showing the relevance of its findings to contemporary acts of ruin tourism so as directly to enrich the general public's knowledge, appreciation and experience of national history and architectural heritage.

The aims of the 'Revenants and Remains' programme are as follows:

1) To attract new local audiences of all ages to these 5 sites of ecclesiastical ruin through the popular and high-recruiting theme of ghosts ('revenants') and corporeal and architectural vestiges ('remains')

2) To engage the interest of these new public audiences in the rich, often controversial histories of these sites, primarily as they are told through the thematically cognate topics of death, burial, ruination, the afterlife and the supernatural

3) To enrich, enhance and change local and national visitors' knowledge, perception and experience of architectural heritage through a thematically coherent set of on-site interpretations

4) To extend the applicability and, thus, the potential impact of the 'Revenants and Remains' programme outwards beyond the 5 selected locales through the production and curation of more general KE-focused digital content, as well as through the hosting of a workshop for heritage professionals and stakeholders

So as to realise these aims, 'Revenants and Remains' comprises the following 5 objectives:

1) The organisation of on-site youth-engagement activities for 11-25-yr-olds

2) The organisation and running of guided tours for adult visitors to the 5 chosen sites themed around the topic of 'Revenants and Remains'

3) The organisation and running of creative writing workshops at each of the 5 selected sites

4) The curation of themed digital content of a more general nature

5) The running of a workshop on the theme of 'Gothic Tourism / Haunted Heritage' for British heritage professionals.

Thus creating and engaging new audiences for the original research, enriching the visitor's experience of Britain's ruins and ultimately contributing towards the sustainable management of the historic environment, the project aims to forge pathways to impact that were neither foreseen nor, indeed, possible during the course of 'Writing Britain's Ruins'.


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Description Please note that a non-cost extension for this award until 30 April 2023 has been agreed, and that, as a result, the project is still in progress. This report, consequently, is not final, but only a summary of what we have discovered and achieved to date. We will be in a better position to report on the award once it has drawn to completion.

Thus far the PI and CO-Is have successfully undertaken the following:
1. Produced digital resources, and constructed a project website: https://revenantsandremains.mmu.ac.uk/
2. Produced, published and disseminated 7 podcasts in a series entitled Revenants and Remains, each delivered by members of the original research network for Writing Britain's Ruins: https://revenants-and-remains.castos.com/
3. Run all 5 residential weekends between October and early December 2022 at 5 northern English monastic ruins, namely Roche Abbey, Yorkshire; Furness Abbey, Cumbria; Byland Abbey, Yorkshire; Lanercost Priory, Cumbria; and Rievaulx Abbey, Yorkshire. At each of these weekend events we ran: 4 x guided tours of each site, co-led by Dale Townshend and Michael Carter; a creative writing workshop led by Rosie Garland; and the performance of an M. R. James ghost story by Robert Lloyd Parry of Nunkie Theatre.
4. The organisation and running of two Youth Engagement workshops at Furness Abbey and Lanercost Priory, led by Photoworks, the artist Sarah Sparkes and English Heritage's Shout Out Loud! Team and supported by Dale Townshend and Michael Carter. The first of these, a spirit photography session at Lanercost Priory, was run in October 2022; the second and final Youth Engagement workshop was run at Furness Abbey in late January 2023.
5. At a concluding event on 5 April 2023, PI Townshend and Co-Is Carter and Bouchard will use the feedback gained from our project to deliver a workshop on Gothic Tourism / Haunted Heritage to heritage industry professionals.

Numbers of Participants in the 'Revenants and Remains' project to Date:
Guided Tour Participants: 329
Creative Writing Workshop Participants: 50
Ghost-Story Readings: 59
Youth-Engagement Workshops: 32
Podcast statistics: Total listeners / downloads to date: 434, drawn from UK, USA, Ireland, Japan, Germany, France, Australia, Portugal, India and Taiwan.

As this synopsis suggests, the project to date has facilitated extensive knowledge exchange and the generation of measurable impact, including the international dissemination of the underpinning research among the general public; the enrichment of the contemporary ruin-tourist's 'experience' of ruin (as measured and assessed through c. 200 completed surveys; the generation of new forms of cultural production (through the creative writing workshops); the engagement of local youths in national history and heritage, as well as the creation of new heritage interpretations (as measured and assessed through completed surveys, as well as via the materials produced during the ghost-photography workshops at Lanercost Priory and Furness Abbey).

The PI and CO-Is to date have received the following forms of feedback and evaluation:
1. c. 200 completed questionnaires from participants in the guided tours at the 5 chosen sites
2. c. 32 surveys completed by youths participating in the project via English Heritage's 'Shout Out Loud' programme,
3. Feedback from Rosie Garland and Sarah Sparkes and Photoworks, who respectively ran the creative writing workshops and the youth engagement programme at the selected sites.
4. Informal feedback received from project participants via emails and oral reports.

Preliminary analysis of this solicited and unsolicited feedback suggests that this project has succeeded in its aims to engage modern-day audiences in heritage via the use of the supernatural. The questionnaires completed by participants in the guided tours at the 5 chosen sites consistently attest to the efficacy of employing the supernatural, from medieval ghost stories to the more recent Gothic imagination, as a means of interpreting ruined heritage. Similarly, the FE students who participated in the Youth Engagement programme have responded extremely well to our interventions, and have produced a truly exceptional portfolio of photographic responses to Lanercost Priory and Furness Abbey, respectively. These photographs will soon be published on the Shout Out Loud! website, as well as on the Revenants and Remains project website. We have also widely disseminated some of the original underpinning research from 'Writing Britain's Ruins' via the 7 podcasts that the team produced and published over the course of the 2022 calendar year. Analytics taken from Castos, our podcast-hosting site, indicate that, to date, the series has received 434 total listeners / downloads.
Exploitation Route As we plan to elaborate in our workshop for Heritage Professionals that is to be run on 5 April 2023, this project may serve as a case study for employing the supernatural as an effective and legitimate means of heritage interpretation, engagement and appreciation. Indeed, English Heritage has already begun to refer to the Youth-Engagement aspects of our programme as the 'model' or 'template' for future initiatives. The utility and significance of this project for future stakeholders will be formalised in the concluding report that PI Townshend and CO-Is Carter and Bouchard write and publish on the project website.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Creative Economy,Education,Environment,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

Description Since the award is still active, we are not yet in a position to comment authoritatively on this. However, a preliminary response at this time would suggest that the findings of the project may be used in the following ways: 1. Informing policy in Heritage Organisation on the use of the supernatural as an effective and legitimate means of engagement and interpretation 2. Our project has successfully articulated a template that is likely to be used for future youth-engagement initiatives for English Heritage. In time, and following our workshop for Heritage Professionals on 5 April 2023, we hope that this might be extended to, and adopted by, other heritage organisations, including the National Trust and Historic Royal Palaces. 3. The podcasts that we have produced have been used in pedagogical environments in India. 4. There is clear evidence of our programme having attracted more visitors to the 5 selected sites. Many of these visitors were not English Heritage members.
First Year Of Impact 2022
Sector Education,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Economic,Policy & public services