It’s part of our community, where we live’: Urban heritage and children’s sense of place

It’s part of our community, where we live’: Urban heritage and children’s sense of place


Written by:

Lucy Grimshaw and Lewis Mates

First Published:

12 Jul 2021, 9:48 am


It’s part of our community, where we live’: Urban heritage and children’s sense of place


This article (‘It’s part of our community, where we live’: Urban heritage and children’s sense of place) developed from ‘Making Heritage Matter’ in collaboration with a primary school and a community Mining Banner Association in a former north-east England coalfield area. We researched why and how local mining history is taught; how children engage with this teaching and the wider benefits (if any) children gained from it.  We wanted to understand children’s experiences and put their voice centre-stage. We were also inspired by critical and place-based pedagogies and recognised the importance of capturing working-class histories in the spirit of the ‘dig where you stand’ and ‘history from below’ movements in Sweden and Britain respectively.

We really enjoyed observing classroom lessons and school trips and carrying out focus groups with the children. We were surprised at how much the children enjoyed learning about local mining history and how it developed their ‘sense of place’, that often elusive concept. Our understanding of a ‘sense of place’ is that it describes our relationship with a location by drawing on two aspects 1) people – our social interactions, related activities and traditions and our memories of these and 2) physical environment – natural landscape, climate, geological features, wildlife. A sense of place is important as it involves feelings of belonging and attachment that can contribute to children’s wellbeing and identity.

We argue that three aspects of the children’s experiences of learning about their local history developed their sense of place:

  1. By making connections between the past, present and future and local, regional, national and global scales; sharing knowledge with their families that fosters inter-generational dialogue.
  2. Through their emotions (excitement, shock, sadness, pride, gratitude) and physicality (e.g. by walking through the local area, imagining what lay under foot).
  3. Engaging their senses, e.g., touching coal for the first time, smelling mining artefacts, imagining the taste of coaldust, hearing and singing mining-related songs, seeing paintings created by coalminers in the region.

We conclude that learning about local history through place-based pedagogy allows children to create and interpret historical events and develop a sense of place. Taking ownership of their history makes the children active participants in telling the story of their place. Children can then develop new ways of seeing themselves in places, as they make connections between the past, present and future.

Our article illustrates the benefits of learning about local working class history and urban heritage for developing children’s sense of place. It comes at a time in the UK when the teaching of history in Universities is under threat; working class students have exposed their experiences of discriminatory attitudes whilst at university; and Black Lives Matters protests have toppled statues of slave-owners highlighting the importance of understanding the histories of those who have been and continue to be oppressed, discriminated against and exploited. We are not suggesting an uncritical, nostalgicrendition of the past but a chance for progressive nostalgia, examining social change in a way which offers a source of strength and empowerment for marginalised communities. As such we hope that our article will contribute to debates about what, how and whose history is taught in schools.


Read the accompanying article on Urban Studies OnlineFirst here.