With our annual Scarecrow Festival and traditional horticultural show with its popular dog show both cancelled this year due to COVID-19, opportunities for children and families to relax and have fun after 6 months of restrictions seemed limited. We had planned another heritage scarecrow tableau in the Church, and to add some arts and crafts classes focused on the building to the children’s competition classes in the Village Show as part of engaging people with the heritage. Knowing that the Church was also going to close for nine months from September, the Heritage Project and Gardens Association and Show teams decided to organise something new and different, with a focus on children, and within the Covid-19 safety guidelines. So, the idea of the Children’s Village Show was born: an arts and crafts show highlighting our 900-year-old heritage church, and fun things to do as part of the emerging Living Churchyard project.
Having planned for a “rainy day” as well as the COVID-19 precautions, on the day we were very fortunate to have dry and increasingly sunny weather. Publicity had been deliberately modest in order to avoid large crowds, and a perfect number of children and families came along, making the Show feel jolly and well-supported, while keeping the number of people inside the Church to below the required limit. Everyone said they’d really enjoyed it, and with 56 entrants to the various show classes creating 76 entries between them, there was plenty for the judges to do.
Churchyard activities introduced the children to our work to make sure the church bats have homes while the roof is being repaired, and one of our volunteers demonstrated how old wooden organ pipes make an ideal bird or bat box. People were able to place orders for their own repurposed box, and children could have some fun with a quiz about bats, a chance to paint and assemble a model bat from paper plates, and a game of “pin the bat on the church”.
Our ecology partner the Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust attended with a stand and leaflets explaining their projects in the local area. The Trust has been of great help to our heritage project in updating the wildlife survey in the churchyard and nearby God’s Acre burial ground. They will be assisting us to develop the Living Churchyard theme while the Church itself is closed.
Children had been encourage to forage in the churchyard to find different kinds of leaves and interestingly shaped pieces of bark to make Show entries, as well as to make models and draw pictures of the Church. The older ones had taken photos of interesting features in the building in the run-up to the Show. During the event they were sent on scavenger hunts to locate particular things as a way of getting to know the churchyard.
While restricting numbers inside the Church to safe and socially distanced levels, the children also followed an intriguing Heritage Quiz Trail which introduced them to Flamstead’s “medieval spaceman” and the three elephants in the Church. Thanks to the kindness of a local collector in giving us access to his collection of vintage postcards, we presented an exhibition themed “Flamstead Then and Now”, showing some of the changes over the past 100 years. When the Church re-opens, this will be on display again in its new heritage exhibition area as we share the fascinating treasures of its 900-year history.
We involved young people of student age from the village as Show Judges, training and mentoring them on how to develop a marking scheme for each category and apply it in a fair and consistent way across different entries. This gave them useful experience and also introduced them to a new “behind the scenes” perspective on what makes events such as this happen. Such hands-on involvement of young people is essential to sustainability, and all of the volunteers said how much they’d enjoyed the experience.
Matt Biggs, the new President of the Flamstead Gardens Association, awarded prizes to the winners of each age group’s classes, and the individual entry winners received certificates and medals. In the afternoon, volunteers organised a mini Dog Show, with assorted and thoroughly distanced canines and owners.
Many volunteers helped to make this Show a safe and successful event for the children and families of our village, and at the same time to provide a chance to become more familiar with the Church and churchyard. Delivering heritage engagement in a time of pandemic is by no means easy, and the essential risk analysis and safety measures add a great deal of extra planning. But based on the positive feedback we received, people really appreciated the opportunity for some relaxed fun after six months of lockdown and with much else having been cancelled.
Here is a small collection of memories of what turned out to be a happy and fun-filled event.