Friday 20 October 2023 saw the official end of the volunteering aspect of our Woodlanders’ Lives and Landscapes project with a fitting celebration of their work. The team of volunteers met at Wycombe Museum, where Helena Chance, project lead, took us down memory lane, sharing photos and anecdotes of the last four years of hard work. It was astounding just how much was involved: Zoom meetups during lockdown; walks in the woods to visit where the chair bodgers worked; hours and hours of research into the people of the Chilterns; lace and straw plaiting workshops; putting together the Hidden Hands exhibition; and, of course, plenty of tea and cake!
Helena commented: “It was wonderful to see so many of our volunteers at Wycombe Museum to celebrate all the brilliant work they have done – researching, writing, running workshops, giving talks and doing tours – to uncover new stories about the lives of Chilterns’ villagers and their cottage industries.”
We also heard from one of the volunteers about their collaborative work on the census – scouring data from the area between 1841 and 1911 and transcribing it into 55,000 rows on a spreadsheet! This has enabled the Woodlanders’ team to find patterns and trends in working lives in various industries over the years, providing a real insight into life and work in the Central Chilterns in days gone by.
There was a warm atmosphere at the celebration, alongside much emotion as we said farewell to Lesley Hoskins, in particular, who has been the Research Associate on the project.
Alex Adkins, lacemaker and project volunteer, shared her feelings about the event: “Thank you so much, Helena, Lesley and everyone else in the Chalk, Cherries and Chairs team who made the ‘Woodlanders’ section of the project possible, supported us volunteers in our contributions, and put on such a heartwarming ‘thank you’ celebratory gathering at Wycombe Museum. It was by sheer fluke that I became involved in the project, but I have loved every minute of it, met so many inspiring people through taking part, made some wonderful new friends, and found new depths of confidence in my own abilities that would otherwise have lain unexplored.”
In the coming months, Helena will continue the project through archiving, reporting and evaluation, as well as producing a Hidden Hands book to complete our Chilterns Stories collection.
Woodlanders’ Lives and Landscapes is part of the Chalk, Cherries and Chairs Landscape Partnership Scheme which is funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and the HS2 Community & Engagement Fund, and managed by the Chilterns Conservation Board.