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Historic sounds of Essex – coming to a town near you

3 June 2016

If a bench could talk, what would it say? The benches being installed across the county by the Essex Record Office do talk, and they tell you stories and play you recordings of local history past and present.

Thanks to National Lottery players, eight sound benches are being installed across the county this summer, with two others touring country parks, towns, and villages as part of You Are Hear: sound and a sense of place. At the same time, two interactive audio-video kiosks will tour public places, with a third installed at the Essex Record Office (ERO).

You Are Hear is a three-year, £276,800 project to digitise, catalogue, and make available many of the historically significant sound and video recordings in the ERO’s Essex Sound and Video Archive. The project is mainly funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), with additional support from the Essex Heritage Trust and the Friends of Historic Essex.

The sound benches will be loaded with recordings that tell the story of the location in which they are placed. You will be able to choose which recording you’d like to hear, and it will be played to you through the in-built speakers.

Permanent benches will be located in Basildon, Castle Hedingham, Colchester, Great Dunmow, Great Waltham, Harwich, Kelvedon, and Saffron Walden. Two more sound benches will be touring the county from June, starting at Stansted Airport and Belhus Woods Country Park.

Two audio-video touchscreen kiosks filled with a selection of recordings from the Essex Sound and Video Archive will also be touring from July. The kiosks will first visit Chelmsford Museum and Loughton Library, before embarking on a tour that will take them the length and breadth of Essex. A third kiosk will be permanently installed at the Essex Record Office in Chelmsford.

The project is working with community groups in villages and towns throughout Essex, helping them to reflect upon where they live by engaging with the recordings. Each group created a montage of clips about their community from recordings in the Archive, which will be played on the sound benches.

Cllr John Spence, Essex County Council Cabinet Member with responsibility for Heritage, Culture and the Arts, said: “So often we rely on the eye to bring archives to life; creating this aural dimension not only lets blind people like me have the experience it actually immerses you in the sounds of the period, or place.”

Robyn Llewellyn, Head of Heritage Lottery Fund East of England, said: “this is a fantastic way for local people and visitors to get a sense of the history of these places, and what life was like for local communities over the years. We are delighted that, thanks to National Lottery players, we have been able to fund this project to bring local history, and local benches, to life!”

We are still taking bookings for the second year of the tours, and looking for volunteers to help with the second round of community bench installations. Please get in touch through info@essexsounds.org.uk or 033301 32467 if you have any suggestions.

To find out more about the project and subscribe to receive updates, visit http://www.essexrecordofficeblog.co.uk/you-are-hear/