Heroes And Villains – What a Year!

Over the last year our young people have been working on a Heritage Lottery funded project to learn more about the town and the people who helped to shape it. Find out more about the project and how it evolved below.

Heritage Club 1

The workshop ran for 12 weeks as an after-school club and was delivered by The Essex Record Office. The purpose of the club was to research the Heroes and Villains of Southend.  Each session was focused on a specific hero or villain, which allowed the group to explore the historic period and the heritage that the subject matter lived in and experienced. The Introduction session was held at The Essex Record Office and unlocked the archives for participants. The group considered Primary and Secondary sources. They looked at Hero and villain archetypes. They asked the students to reflect on what makes a hero or villain and used this theme to frame each session. The group were asked to consider what does a villain do? They were also provided with an overview on how old items are preserved.

Arts Awards for the Heritage Research Club

They looked at the Anglo-Saxon era and Southend’s Anglo-Saxon past. Particular focus was given on ‘The King of Bling’ or Prittlewell Prince (discovered 2003).

 During the following 12 weekly sessions, the club looked at the following Heroes and Villains; Sir Richard Rich, Dick Turpin (Highwayman), Sarah Moore (Sea Witch),  Percy Garon, Alf Smith, and R A Jones. They also looked at heroes from both world wars  alongside heroes from the local floods of 1953, focusing on the heroic deeds they had carried out.

The heritage looked at included;

  • Crime and Punishment
  • Official ‘villains’ and how crime has been defined and punishment handed out.
  • Prosperity and philanthropy. 
  • Maps, postcards and photographs of Southend from 1830-1930.
  • The Impact of the First World War.
  • The bombing of Southend and Southend life in the FWW .
  • Southend’s involvement in Operation Dynamo, how ordinary people faired in extra ordinary times. How to track down Southender’s stories using the evidence that survives.
  • Moving beyond living memory and considering the last chance to discuss the 2nd World War with  those who experienced it who are still alive.
  • The 1953 Floods.
  • The power of the Sound and Video archive.
  • Events as they happen and stories told by the people who were there.
  • Thinking about seeking and recording personal stories – before it is too late.
  • Gathering what we have discovered to make a judgement: hero or villain?

Local artists meet the club

At the end of the 12 weekly sessions, members each identified an area they wanted to look more closely at.

Students researched a hero or villain and a source that they wanted to get closer to. Their research was then compiled into a publication used for the other strands of the project. 

Heritage Club 2 The Trailblazers

20 young people took part in the Heritage Trailblazers Club. They learnt about the local area of three distinct areas of Southend, researched and designed 3 trail maps.

The cannon discovered at Shoebury Garrison

An overview session launched the project. Entitled – A brief history of Southend, the following areas were covered. In The Beginning – Romans, Anglo Saxons and Normans – The Plantagenets – The Tudors – The Stuarts – The Georgians and the Victorians – The World War.

In partnership with a local historian, the group first undertook a session with the steering group to receive feedback on the Heroes and Villains research completed to date. The task was to compliment and build on this by further understanding the local environment and the heritage within it.

During the 12 weeks, the research included  brainstorming sessions with the local author Dee Gordon. Her published titles were used to consider the people who mattered in Southend and beyond.

They looked at growing up in Southend by using the memories of local people, for the ‘ horrible history’ type element of the project, there was a focus on foul deeds and suspicious deaths in and around Southend-on-Sea.

For Southend at War, ATF drew inspiration from their previously funded Southend Memories project – with resource from Land Army girls, evacuees and members of the forces and the Home Guard, plus memories passed down through the generations recalling WW1 in Southend.

The young people were keen to recount some ghostly goings on and Dee’s book Haunted Southend provided a revealing collection of tales from around the town including ghostly sightings in Prittlewell Priory, ominous sounds and smells on the seafront and tales of mysterious shapes at the town’s pubs and taverns.

During this session it discovered that one of the club members was related to the ghost that haunts The Palace Hotel which was truly an unexpected outcome.

Next, the focus turned to Leigh-on-Sea. The research session looked into the following areas;

Captured at Hadleigh Castle – Essex Witch Trials- A Secret Love Affair – The Highway Man Gabriel Craddock – Smugglers – John Constable- James Cunning Murrell –Cutter Lynch.

Contrast was given to the area and how it had developed through time. 

Next the focus turned to central Southend.

The group focused on visits from The Royals– Henry 8th – the Mad King George 3rd – Lord Nelson . The villain Richard Rich -Thomas Dickson and also famous sons of Southend including The Great Ramaeses –Warwick Deeping. For the ‘Horrible History’ type element, consideration was given to the missing gold of Dandy Jack and then the notorious Brides in the Bath Murderer.

The group finished by looking at the visits of Laurel and Hardy and The Beatles. The next visit was a trip to the local museum, a resource that due to cut backs is under utilised by young people. They explored the Saxon King’s tomb and considered the sinking of the Tudor sailing ship The London, whilst learning about the many other wrecks that are located in the Thames Estuary off of the shore of Southend. 

For the third trail, focus turned to The Shoebury Garrison, how it was built and established.

Its rise to prominence during the Crimean War, Florence Nightingale’s visit to the hospital.

Becoming the most important Military Testing site in the country and the day Churchill came to Shoeburyness during the Second World War. The first place in England to test the Blackout and Shoebury celebrities who stayed at the Barracks. 

Finally a trip to the Tower Of London was undertaken to follow a trail and understand how a map can bring a place to life. Students also learnt more about Richard Rich and his infamous place in history. The club certainly was a project within a project and covered a rich  range of material impossible to be  fully represented within 3 trails.

They worked very closely with the creative project manager to design the trails. At the time of writing they are currently busy editing the final drafts of the trails. 

Alf Smith D Day Veteran

Heritage Club 3 Art Club

The sessions ran for 12 weeks and looked at a number of artistic techniques and also explored printing and mixed media and how this would tie into The Heroes and Villains theme. The steering group were able to present the findings from the first club and frame the next workshop and how work could begin to present The Heroes and Villains. They were able to look at the artists Picasso, Chagall and Richard Long and consider the historical context and stories behind the artwork.

They looked at a number of techniques including -Mono-printing – Table-top printing -Trash bag printing -Transparency printing – Developed prints using images from heroes and villains, Photocopying technique and developed prints. The Club researched how to demonstrate a technique and also explored Mono-printing technique. They found items for printing rubbing techniques, they developed prints using images and maps from Southend. They also looked at local artists and how art represented the heritage of the period of the Heroes and Villains.

The club undertook a visit to the National Gallery to look at how heroes and villains are represented nationally. They took a guided tour around the gallery to look at myths and legends.

The first pop up exhibition was held in the town centre at the halfway point and focused on historic and contemporary heroes and villains. The exhibition was held in a vacant shop within the town centre. The group were able to have an X Factor star who featured as one of the young person’s stencils[We3]  open the event which drew publicity to the event.

Each student focused on a hero and villain. The main exhibition was held in the summer of 2019 throughout the whole of July/August in the local library. It was promoted at the carnival by drama students. Over 300 people from the town visited the exhibition.

Heritage Club 4 Drama Club

The Shoebury Dynamics Drama group were presented with the findings of the first club by the steering group. From this, the group worked on a  dramatic interpretation, which they performed and refined to present to local primary schools ahead of the festival day.

Heroes and Villains come to life!

The 12 week club, with help from the ERO, first asked students to understand the time period and heritage of each hero and villain.

Rehearsals then began for the drama piece. Focusing on the lives of Southend’s heroes and villains, the 30 minute performance was a whistle stop tour of the towns own ‘Horrible History’. As it was performed to 5 schools across the town, there was an opportunity for all members of the group to interchange and perform leading roles.

On carnival day, with the help of the steering group and a local amateur dramatic group, the festival celebration event took place in Southend to commemorate the heroes and villains.

The group performed drama presentations, and a procession through the town centre. Heroes and Villains roamed the town during the day, staying in character performing readings and re-tellings of tradition and myth whilst signposting to the exhibition within the library. The characters were strategically placed throughout the town within the most prominent places. This element of the project brought to life the most interactive element allowing people of the town to interact with the heroes and villains themselves! It also brought excellent attention to the exhibition itself.

Filming of the Project

5 young people were recruited from the steering group. They worked with a local media consultant, learning techniques and training on social media and as a consequence set up a Instagram page that then recorded the project. They attended sessions and photographed significant milestones, whilst providing media content for the post project evaluation phase.

They also received training on filming and promotion. The group focused on how to capture the essence of the project in a short film that could recreate the spirit of the year long project. They learnt  effective project management and communication techniques to ensure that they could capture the imagination of the viewer, whilst not bombarding them with too much information.


Focus Groups

The focus groups took place with 37 members at South Essex Community Hub in Southend on Sea on the 11th and 12th September 2019. We wanted to test the success of the current project and consider learning for future cultural projects.

Displaying our art work

The groups comprised of 37 participants including 22 young people aged 12 – 19 who had participated in the project. The project members of the group consisted 9 males and 13 females. 12 of the individuals would consider themselves to be of a BAME background.

We ran two Focus Groups. Focus Group 1 involved our statutory partners and a range of community groups. Group 2 focused on our existing users and those who were currently engaged in wider projects, alongside those who had participated in the project, delivery partners and a range of community champions representing the interests of women and girls, people with disabilities, older people, people on low or no income and those from hidden communities.

We identified barriers to involvement in Heritage and Cultural projects and activity including: social isolation; lack of motivation, lack of money and restrictions to access to projects due to financial and childcare barriers.

We identified those community members that continue to be most at risk of being socially isolated; considered how to identify and engage with these people; how to involve them and sustain their involvement in activity and how to  empower them  to participate in other projects.

The seven main success factors identified for the project were:

  1. An accessible location which was safe, friendly, and welcoming. The majority of participants found the locations used were close to their home (hyper-local).
  2. Strong and passionate leadership, comprising of the project manager and youth worker, supported by trained volunteers.
  3. A strong ethos which was participant-focused, holistic, flexible, and supportive.
  4. A collaborative approach with a range of engaged partners – many of the projects felt part of the whole.
  5. Effective use of community insight and engagement to understand the place and people and which led to co-produced projects and activities.
  6. A sense of connectedness and belonging developed by the leadership, but also incorporating mechanisms to facilitate peer support.
  7. The use of a range of behaviour change strategies including enablement, modelling, education and training.

Lack of attendance and engagement were highlighted by the following themes;

  1. Individual barriers faced by participants (e.g. long term physical condition, child care needs, lack of confidence).
  2. Referral processes  need strengthening in order to ensure easier access for new participants to the projects.
  3. There is a lack of knowledge and awareness by existing heritage learning programmes across the system.
  4. Lack of partnership working and a lack of understanding of the roles and offer of potential partners.
  5. Hesitancy by external providers to work collaboratively and share intellectual property. This could be down to a lack of resource from public authorities. The development of stronger partnerships could work towards addressing this.
  6. A perception that heritage projects were not for people of working class and were not accessible to the targeted group.
  7. Difficulties in identifying and obtaining long-term funding for heritage projects.
  8. Difficulties in building capacity to enable projects to sustain, upscale and replicate to meet the known demand and hidden demand.

The common themes emerging from the focus groups are: • Many community activities could involve learning as a secondary factor to the social element. A physical activity as a hidden element could be added (e.g History walks). Safety is a big issue, especially going out at night. • Research is the most popular activity of the last project. • Routine is very important – activities to be the same day and time every week without interruption. • The social aspect of activities is very important – many people will not attend unless they go with a friend or know that a friend will be there. • Bus routes and taxis are expensive and prohibitive. Continued transport support is essential • The leader needs to be passionate and empathetic and make time to get to know the participants and listen to them. • Many participants are initially motivated because of personal interest, but their motives for remaining are mainly for socialising and friendship. • Participants really enjoyed the social environment provided within most activities. The support provided by leaders was appreciated, as was the inclusion of time for group members to talk with each other. Most participants had formed friendships that led to spending time together outside of the project.


All 115 participants were supported to complete a qualitive and  quantitative pre and post survey, on their perceptions of the project and how they had been personally affected by participating in either a  positive or negative way.  52% said they didn’t know what to expect, and 92% were unable to articulate a historical hero or villain. Comments stated an apprehension that the research element may be “boring” and 92% said it was not what they expected (in a positive way). A range of activities were highlighted as most and least favourite, with no majority linked to any of the four clubs  or the award.

Many pupils said it was good they had a range of clubs to choose from, stating it allowed greater opportunity for involvement.

108 participants reported on a scale of 1-5 that the project had helped them to have a greater appreciation for the town.

96 participants cited an increased confidence linked to participation in the project.

56 participants reported the project helped them find new places to visit.

40 participants stated they now understood the role of the ERO and would be confident to visit again and gain access to the records.

84 participants said that they looked at their area in a different way as a result of the project.

115 felt a greater sense of belonging, pride and identity with their neighbourhood following the project.

Participants felt everything was explained clearly, rating the project overall at 4.6 out of five overall.

No issues were raised to do with delivery throughout the project.

Five participants said that if they could change anything they would like to get more involved in the other clubs and activities; three said that they would like to work more outside/onsite than inside and that outdoor activities should be a more regular part of future clubs.

100% said they wanted to do another Art Award with ATF, stating they would like to take part in more activities over a longer time.

78 participants said the project had helped them gain new skills and 64 said they felt it had helped them to be more creative through the Art Award element.

Several participants commented they would have liked to have been more creative outside the classroom.

One participant commented she would like to volunteer when she was older and greatly enjoyed the clubs. A steering group participant stated they enjoyed the element of governance and project management.

Comments from staff included one from the historian who said the project enabled quieter students to get involved in more group work, helping them  develop stronger social  and communication skills and confidence.

Several of the steering group who have had experience within the youth criminal justice system, have struggled to find work and stated that the project had given them a new focus and enthusiasm for being involved with local heritage.

A member of the Art Club stated they felt slightly overwhelmed with having to produce work that was to be displayed in a public space and felt that this may have been a step too far for a first project.

Social Value

For the purpo[We5] Wellbeing Valuation is the latest thinking in social impact measurement. Wellbeing Valuation enables you to measure the success of a social intervention by how much it increases people’s wellbeing. To do this, the results of large national surveys are analysed to isolate the effect of a particular factor on a person’s wellbeing. Analysis then reveals the equivalent amount of money needed to increase someone’s wellbeing by the same amount.

A key advantage of the Wellbeing Valuation approach is by using data on self-reported wellbeing and life circumstances. We have information on people’s actual experiences and so the values are based on how people live their lives; this can be in contrast to other valuation methods that are based on how people perceive their life, introducing psychological complexities and biases.

The calculator articulates the relevant outcomes of the project as demonstrated below and can be used to evidence  value for money across the project.

Activity Proportion of Project Budget Associated outcome Total Value Minus Deadweight
Community members direct employment  £28,600.00 Full-time employment  £24,712
Membership of clubs £8,400 Hobbies/Interests  £84,671
Volunteering  £3,000.00   Go to youth clubs  £39,922
Participation of young people in socially deprived area £6,186 Feel belonging to neighbourhood  £255,804
Young people trained in Social Media  £6,186 General training for future job  £10,654
Participation of young people in socially deprived area £6,186 Improvements in confidence (youth)  £717,811