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Ancestors' treasures in the attic: project to create digital archive of WW1 artefacts


The Commonwealth War Graves Commission's charity arm, the Commonwealth War Graves Foundation, has received a £87,800 Heritage Lottery Fund grant for a nationwide project to create a digital archive of First World War artefacts stored in attics and bedrooms across the UK, in partnership with Oxford University.


The grant has been made through the Heritage Lottery Fund’s First World War Then and Now programme to support the free-to-use Lest We Forget: Keep Their Stories Alive digital archive. The archive will be launched at here from November 2018 as the country marks 100 years since the end of the First World War.


The project will stage events around the country making a call to communities across the regions to reach into their attics, bedrooms and cupboards; and bring along their First World War family heirlooms and valuables. They will be met by a team of experts and volunteers who will be able to tell them more about their object and create a digital record of it to be stored online as a lasting legacy.


The events will be managed by a nationwide team of volunteers who will help stage the events and ensure that each item is accurately recorded in the archive. It is anticipated the project will feature 900 volunteers in total, with 100 of those acting as Digital Champions which the HLF grant will help recruit, train and support this team. Applications for volunteers are now being accepted, further details can be found on the CWGC website.


The data in the digital archive will also be shared with other major WW1 online archives. Alongside it will be a series of four heritage trails, which will be inspired by the items collected and will encourage communities to explore the First World War heritage across the UK by visiting some of the Commonwealth War Grave Commission UK sites.


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Julian Evans, International and Community Engagement Director for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, said: ‘We are thrilled to have been awarded this grant and are grateful to all who play the National Lottery. The Commonwealth War Graves Foundation was launched in 2017 in honour of our 100th anniversary. Working with Oxford University, this ground-breaking project will enable us to engage with communities across the UK, shining a light on their own heritage and sharing stories of those who served in the First World War.’


Dr Stuart Lee, Deputy CIO of IT Services, Oxford University, added: Lest we Forget began as an idea in 2017 building on 10 years of successful projects around crowd-sourcing WW1 material. We want to support schools and local communities to run their own digital collection days to allow them to record those stories, objects and memories from the First World War which survive – not in museum collections or history books – but in the hearts and homes of the very many families and individuals affected.


After a successful crowd-sourcing project we were able to launch the initial project in October 2017 and this collaboration with the Commonwealth War Graves Foundation will enable us grow even further as we approach the Armistice anniversary.


Michelle Roffe, Head of HLF South East England, said: The impact of the First World War was far reaching, touching and shaping every corner of the UK and beyond. Thanks to National Lottery players, HLF has already invested more than £90million to more than 1,700 projects – large and small – that are marking this global Centenary. We are delighted to support the “Lest we Forget” project in exploring the continuing legacy of this conflict.


The funding builds on donations raised through Oxford University’s crowdfunding platform, OxReach. Events will begin this summer and will be published on the CWGC website.


Visit the Lest We Forget website to learn more and discover events near you.


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