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Travel back in time as Chelmsford unveils its first listening bench

19 July 2017

Chelmsford unveiled its very first listening bench which allows residents to hear stories from the past from the city’s heritage. The bench has been installed in Backnang Square outside The Meadows Shopping Centre. 

Listening bench  
L-R standing: Cllr John Aldridge, Cllr Duncan Lumley; L-R seated: local author Elizabeth Woodcraft, Sue Patel manager of the Meadows Shopping Centre in Chelmsford, Mrs Edna Lumley Mayoress.

The listening bench features clips of archive recordings about Chelmsford in the 1910s right through to the opening of The Meadows in 1992. The clips are chosen and put together by volunteers with an interest in the city’s history. The six clips cover key parts of Chelmsford’s heritage including Hoffman’s ball bearings factory, the impact of the First and Second World War, and the changing High Street. The bench has been funded by a National Lottery grant of £276,800 awarded by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) for a wider project to digitise and share recordings in the Essex Sound and Video Archive, with additional support from the Essex Heritage Trust and the Friends of Historic Essex. A total of eighteen benches are being installed across the county as part of the Essex Record Office project You Are Hear: sound and a sense of place. 

The Chelmsford bench launch event was attended by Cllr John Aldridge, the Mayor of Chelmsford, family members of one of the interviewees featured in the clips, and the volunteers who created the audio. Local author Elizabeth Woodcraft formally unveiled the bench.

Cllr Sue Barker, Cabinet Member for Culture, Communities and Customer said, “I’m thrilled and heartened to see local people in Chelmsford taking pride in their communities, working with the You Are Hear project not only in preserving but also bringing local history alive, through these benches.”   

A spokesperson for The Meadows Shopping Centre said: ‘‘We are celebrating our 25th anniversary this year, so are particularly excited to have been selected to host Chelmsford’s first listening bench. We have been, and still are, at the heart of the community and it felt important that we play a part in recognising Chelmsford’s history. We look forward to welcoming our regular local shoppers and new visitors to listen and learn about the city.”

Robyn Llewellyn, Head of High Lottery Fund East of England, said, “It’s fantastic to see Chelmsford’s listening bench installed, helping visitors and local people to learn about the city’s rich history. Thanks to National Lottery players, this is just one exciting step in a wider project to digitise and share parts of the Essex Sound and Video Archive, providing a fascinating insight into what life was like in Chelmsford throughout the 20th century.” 

Listening benches have already been installed in Basildon, Castle Hedingham, Clavering, Coggeshall, Colchester, Galleywood, Great Dunmow, Great Waltham, Harwich, Kelvedon, Saffron Walden, and Southend-on-Sea, with five more to come over the next few months. 

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