My new adventure as Community Arts Development Officer for CAER Studio.

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Woven art by Nicola Parsons

Having created community artwork in Ely and Caerau over the last five years, I have got to know the local residents, participants and the area’s rich mixture of community groups really well. During this time I have always been warmed by the strong sense of local community, something that you rarely stumble across in life these days, especially on such a broad scale.

I first worked with the ‘People Around Here’ arts charity, who introduced me to the ACE team at Dusty Forge around five years ago, and I have dipped my toes into short-term funded projects at ‘The Dusty’ ever since.  When I was first introduced to Dave Wyatt (coordinator of the CAER Heritage Project / Historian), around two years ago and started learning about the hillfort project, I was instantly captivated.  A hidden plot of treasure, being uncovered by its own residents! I didn’t know much about it at first, and I have recently learned how the project has been expanding and evolving over more years than I realised, beginning back in 2011.

If you are yet to read about the project, here are a few facts:

• Caerau hillfort is one of the largest and best preserved in South Wales.

• It’s the third largest Iron Age hillfort in Glamorgan, enclosing 5.1 hectares (about the size of four football pitches).

• It began with local residents, the local schools and a handful of Cardiff University academics kickstarting the Caerau And Ely Rediscovering (CAER) Heritage Project, based in West Cardiff.

• The aim of the project is to explore the history and archaeology of Caerau and Ely, create new life opportunities for local people and generate positive stories about the area.

• The Ely estate was originally designed as a garden village in the 1920s.

This brings me to where I fit in!  I have recently accepted a new job as ‘Community Arts Engagement Officer’ for CAER Studio, the latest development in the CAER Heritage Project, having originally been brought in as a freelance artist to work on the project alongside other accomplished local artists now known as the ‘CAER collective’. My new post encompasses so many of my artistic passions – allowing me not only to be creative, but also to help grow the business enterprise of CAER Studio by working in a coordination role in which I will be involved in planning and marketing all things art on the project!

Having spent my first few years after uni as a scenic artist and buyer, then going on to complete my PGCE in further education and continue as a freelance artist, it is a great opportunity to pull all my skills together and work with like-minded people to make the project sustainable for the future. I’m working with the most wonderful people from the CAER Heritage Project and the dynamic team at ACE (Action in Ely and Caerau). I am hoping to use the variety of experience that I have gained from previous jobs, and my eagerness to explore creative potential, in this exciting new field of history and heritage! Even during a quick whistle-stop tour from Dave Horton (Development Manager at ‘Our Place’ ACE), around Ely as part of my induction, I’ve learned a lot more about its rich history and some of the challenges the community has overcome. I am very excited about the future (and the past) and what they hold for all of us involved!

In my first two weeks I have delivered a successful Ceramic Pendant Making workshop at the Gospel Hall – Community Heritage Centre and taken part in a strategy planning workshop with academics at Brighton university, which really helped unravel our hopes and aims for the future. I’ll leave you with this quote reflecting on the project so far, collectively thought up by volunteers, employees and trustees of the CAER team who attended:

‘Everyone is given the opportunity to share their wisdom, experience and treasured memories, creating opportunity for personal growth, and to put Ely and Caerau on the map!’

Nicola Parsons, CAER Studio Project Coordinator

Following the success of the award-winning Caer Heritage Project, CAER Studio is a one year AHRC funded project that will lead to the development of a series of creatively co-produced art objects and craft items inspired by the history and heritage of the community of Caerau and Ely in South West Cardiff. Local people will have the chance to get involved in a range of artistic activities, inspired by the knowledge and artefacts gained from archaeological excavations at Caerau Hillfort. The CAER Collective, a cohort of local artists, will hold workshops and events over 2018 at which residents can come along and get creative, while developing new skills and learning more about the history of their community.

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