Leicester expertise supports new £14.5 million community heritage hub

Professor Sarah Scott, pictured here at the Royal opening of The Chester House Estate, serves as partnership lead for the collaborative project.

Leicester researchers and students attended a ceremony to mark the official opening of a nationally-significant heritage site by the Princess Royal, in July.

Princess Anne visited Northamptonshire for the formal opening of the £14.5 million Chester House Estate, home to the county’s new Archaeological Resource Centre (ARC).

Experts from the University of Leicester’s School of Archaeology and Ancient History have collaborated with the Chester House team since 2019 to make local history, archaeology and heritage accessible and engaging, and to maximise community engagement with the unique archaeological opportunities along the Nene Valley.

The Chester House Estate is funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and North Northamptonshire Council, and is one of a small number of sites in the UK which can demonstrate over 10,000 years of human activity. Learning programmes, informed by Leicester expertise, are offered to schoolchildren and students from Key Stage 1 through Key Stage 5, in addition to community engagement opportunities focused on local archaeology and heritage.

Sarah Scott is a Professor of Archaeology at the University of Leicester and serves as partnership lead for the collaborative project. Speaking at the formal opening, Professor Scott said: “The Chester House Estate offers a nationally significant site and archive within a historically- and archaeologically-rich landscape, together with state-of-the-art learning and community engagement facilities.

“Through our partnership, we are developing the Estate as a unique and transformative hub for collaborative research, learning and community engagement.

“It is a real privilege to work with the Chester House team; their dedication, creativity and openness to collaborative ventures has resulted in a wealth of fantastic learning and research opportunities for our students and staff as well as the wider community.”

Over the past 18 months, the partnership has supported:

  • collaboration with students from the 16-25 Creating Tomorrow College, based on site, helping to prepare young adults for independent living and employment opportunities as they transition into adulthood;
  • ongoing research and interpretation of the site’s complex history;
  • school and community engagement activities focused on archaeology and the area’s Roman heritage;
  • a field school, involving more than 130 community volunteers and students excavating the eastern suburbs of the small Roman town which lies within the Estate;
  • developing pioneering archaeology and wellbeing initiatives;
  • and involvement with the month-long Nene Valley Communities Past and Present festival of history, archaeology and heritage in partnership with Stanwick Lakes.

The University of Leicester team includes staff and students from the School of Archaeology and Ancient History (SAAH) and University of Leicester Archaeological Services (ULAS), including Dr Jeremy Taylor (SAAH), Donald Clark and Chris Naisbitt (ULAS).

Students have played a key role, from developing a social media strategy for the Estate to designing sessions in support of the learning programme. These opportunities form part of an extensive placement and co-curricular volunteering scheme for Leicester students. University of Leicester students Peter Walker and Jess Elmes attended the Royal opening.

Jack Pishhorn, Business Manager for The Chester House Estate, said: “Our relationship working with the School of Archaeology and Ancient History, and in particular Professor Sarah Scott, has been vital for The Chester House Estate in our first year of opening.

“Working in partnership has helped us exceed all our opening projections and provided far greater opportunities for us to engage our visitors with their Roman heritage and hit audiences that might otherwise have been missed.”

Professor Teela Sanders, Dean of Research and Enterprise for the College of Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities, added: “The team from the School of Archaeology and Ancient History have done a tremendous job in leading the field school at the Chester House Estate.

“The Royal opening was a wonderful occasion to visit the site and meet the many volunteers that keep the site going. The whole concept of public and civic engagement with history, archaeology and heritage is a testament to the continued hard work and creativity of the team led by Professor Scott.”

For more information on the University of Leicester’s partnership with The Chester House Estate, visit chesterhouseestate.org.