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Exploring utopia

5 October 2016

iPad with cutout characters on
© Paul Evans

Modern and medieval visions of a ‘perfect world’ have been captured on film by a group of young people from south Wales.

Led by Dr Dave Wyatt and Dr Oliver Davis from the School of History, Archaeology and Religion, and professional artist Paul Evans, CAER Model Village was delivered in collaboration with community development organisation Action in Caerau and Ely (ACE) and Michaelston Community College.

The project gave a group of pupils from Michaelston the chance to discover the origins of their housing estate in Ely – a Cardiff suburb built in the 1920s as a desirable garden village - and also to explore the archaeology of Michaelston-super-Ely, a deserted medieval village very close to that estate.

Working with Dave Wyatt and social historian Dr Stephanie Ward, the young people researched the original plans of Ely’s garden village housing estate at the Glamorgan Archives. They then joined Dr Davis and Cardiff University students to participate in a small archaeological excavation at a fourteenth-century village, discovering what it was like to live in Ely during a very different era in time.

Through these activities, the young people explored ideas around planned settlements in both the medieval and modern periods and debated the utopian visions that inspired these settlements.

Together with artist Paul Evans and filmmakers Jon Harrison and Viv Thomas, the young people expressed their research findings through drawing, animation and storytelling, - creating visions that they turned into a short film.

“This project has brought together modern history, medieval archaeology, art and filmmaking in a ground-breaking multi-disciplinary exploration of Ely’s remarkable history through the ages. It allowed a talented group of local young people to think about and understand their local environment – the houses, streets and parks that they experience every day – and to understand how and why these were planned and built."

Dr David Wyatt Reader in Early Medieval History

“They then discovered the story of their ancestors who lived here hundreds of years before the estate was developed. In the process they have learned new skills, worked alongside academics, heritage professionals and artists and have helped to create some remarkable film animations to tell the story they uncovered.”

The Model Village film was premiered during the Utopia Festival at Somerset House, London, which was part of a year of events to mark the 500th anniversary of Thomas More’s influential text. Held in partnership with the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Connected Communities Programme, the fair showcased the creative outcomes from 25 projects bringing together communities, researchers and artists around the UK to explore what utopia means to them.

Community Development Manager Dave Horton commented: “ACE have been hugely privileged to work with Cardiff University to develop the fantastic CAER Heritage Project over the last few years. The Model Village Project has once again brought that magic CAER mix of research, creativity and community engagement. Every time we learn more about our shared history we become a little wiser about our own times and that bit more committed to building a successful community of our own!”

The Model Village project is part of the ongoing CAER Heritage project, which is reconnecting the communities of Ely and Caerau with their heritage and developing educational opportunities that align with the Welsh Government's Fusion: Tackling Poverty through Culture programme.

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