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Harvestories - a UK first! Oral history website launches the Blackdown Hills to a worldwide audience

A fascinating oral history website which documents the everyday lives of people living in and around the Blackdown Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) is being launched. www.harvestories.co.uk

The website, which is believed to be the first of its kind in the UK, records the personal histories of 85 residents in and around the Blackdown Hills, on the Devon and Somerset border. It links ‘memoryscapes with landscapes’ giving a captivating insight in to the character and natural beauty of the area through stories about the people, landscape, culture and crafts of this beautiful and sometimes little known, isolated and rural locality. Harvestories combines the traditions of storytelling with the latest modern technology to cast a spotlight on the fascinating cultural and social heritage of the Blackdown Hills, an area of 142 square miles and 40 parishes which borders the towns of Taunton and Chard in Somerset and Axminster and Honiton in East Devon. The Blackdown Hills AONB is an unspoilt rural area with deep winding lanes, hidden valleys and remote villages.

From artist, undertaker, cider maker and champion hedge layer to boat builder, forester and war veteran, Harvestories records the hidden histories and rich West Country dialects of the vibrant Blackdown Hills community providing an oral archive for future generations to enjoy. This easy to navigate website offers audio histories and transcripts of recorded conversations as well as a Google satellite map of the area which visitors to the site can explore while following individual stories.

Harvestories is a growing project as there are plans to include more interviews on the site and other local people are being invited to add their recorded histories to the website.

The project was devised and run by oral historian consultant Judy Simmonds who gathered material for Harvestories during the past two and a half years. It all began in 2009 with an earlier Blackdown Hills AONB project called “Voices from the Hills” and the Harvestories website was devised so that this and other related recordings could easily be heard.

Judy says that collecting the stories was a huge but immensely enjoyable task which will bring local history alive in an entertaining way to a new world wide audience; “ It all began with a remark in a pub “I know two old boys with stories to tell, someone should listen before it’s too late.” And here we are more than two years on with a 120 personal stories. These are recordings of seemingly ordinary men and women who have extraordinary tales to tell, hidden from history and who live in a stunning landscape and who can now share their stories with the rest of the world through this unique new website.”

The project has been managed by the Blackdown Hills AONB and grant-aided through its Sustainable Development Fund. It has also been funded by Making it Local, a locally managed grants scheme in the Blackdown Hills and East Devon AONB areas, incorporating funding from the EU, Defra and Leader. The website is a valuable and easily accessible archive which would be useful as a tool to promote the area but also for local history and community groups, schools and colleges or anyone wishing to trace their ancestry in the area.

Suggested Harvestories profiles for journalists:

See Harvestories Index which lists names of interviewees, places and subjects. Audio clips are available on a selected number of interviews.

Diana Dawkins from Stockland is a former theatre designer who lived in Africa before settling down to live in the Blackdowns. She talks about her war-time experiences in Devon when she was expecting her first child and she and her mother were strafed by German aircraft.

“Anyway these planes came on towards us, two of them were, very, very low; in between the valley up the estuary. And then they started machine gunning us! We stood like, you know, frozen, because the bullets literally spat into the sand at our feet. I think I said 'We should take cover Mother.' There wasn't any cover, there was a little bank and we went in that.”  www.harvestories.co.uk - interview20

Roger Parris who was born and brought up in the Blackdown Hills is a farmer from Stockland in East Devon. He is a national champion hedge layer and he reveals the secrets of his craft: “And there's an old saying my father used to always tell me, that, when laying a hedge, lay it thick enough so a butterfly can fly in but not through.” www.harvestories.co.uk - interview97

David Grainger, tells his extraordinary account of how he was evacuated from London with his brother during the second World War to Chardstock in Devon. “Nevertheless we were put into a school. Next morning formed into a crocodile and walked the streets and. children being taken from the front and passed to people……or to those who either wanted, or could have evacuees. My brother and I were taken off the end of the line by an old lady who wasn’t deemed to be …….of the right age to have evacuees. And so we became lost, because no-one knew that we’d been taken! “  www.harvestories.co.uk - interview150

The West Country is famous for its cider and Andy Jarvis at the ‘Zider and Zawdust’ sawmill near Stockland is the ultimate cider expert. He gives an entertaining account of growing up on the Blackdowns, discovering the delights of too much cider, with advice on how to press apples for the best cider ever.

“The cider really started when I was about 9, when we was kids we used to go haymaking at Jim Dares farm in Dalwood. We used to sneak in the cellar there and drink the cider, that’s how it all started really.”  www.harvestories.co.uk - interview110

Lifelong friends Roy Blackstone and Michael Fortune from Otterford in Somerset recall growing up during the war. The pair give an amusing account of a long lost country childhood :

“My wife that was, her great aunt she used to teach us at Browndown .….But I remember telling her, I said, 'I can see your drawers, Ma’am'. We'd to go outside didn't us then. One dinnertime we went out birds nesting across the fields. Never came back. Did us? Sent search parties for us. “ www.harvestories.co.uk - interview52

Phoebe Garlick from Buckland St Mary near Chard in Somerset is a young fashion designer who shares her inspiration for her fashion designs with her experiences of growing up in the country: “I've worked for a few design houses in London and it's so nice having grown up in Somerset, to collaborate the two together. Collaborating my interests at home, like horse riding, all the country stuff, with the high fashion of London, it's nice to bring the two together. Which I feel you know, think, is the thing that’s missing in the fashion market.”

www.harvestories.co.uk - interview49

For further press information please contact: Gail Livingstone T/: 01823 252415 M/: 07767 055595 E/: gail@aheadforpr.co.uk Jane Adkins T/: 01935 813114 M/: 07960 698089 E/: jane@aheadforpr.co.uk

For further information about Harvestories please visit the website www.harvestories.co.uk or contact Judy Simmonds, email: jlsimmonds@hotmail.com

Notes to Editors

The Blackdown Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty was designated in 1991 to protect the landscape for the nation. It covers 370 sq km of land on the Devon and Somerset border and is one of 46 AONBs in the UK. The Blackdown Hills AONB Partnership brings together local authorities, conservation organisations, national agencies, parish councils and community groups to help ensure that the Blackdown Hills remains a healthy, living landscape for future generations. For more information visit www.blackdownhillsaonb.org.uk

The Sustainable Development Fund is funded by Defra to support projects in the UK's AONBs and National Parks, and is administered in this area by the Blackdown Hills AONB Partnership.

Making it Local is a five-year grants fund offering up to £100,000 support for projects that make the most of the outstanding landscape and local skills and bring long lasting prosperity and economic benefit to the area. The programme has two funding schemes; the Main Grants Fund (£10,000-£100,000) and the Small Grants Fund (£1,000-£10,000). The Programme area covers Blackdown Hills and East Devon Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

For further information, including on projects we have funded, please contact the Making it Local team on 01823 680626, or email makingitlocal@devon.gov.uk www.makingitlocal.org

SugarShaker the digital marketing and website development company, developed the website for the project www.sugarshaker.com

Find out more about Harvestories


Release Date: 22nd February 2012

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