There was much celebration at last nights ‘Heritage Angel Awards’ as Tom Meharg was announced as winning the ‘Best Contribution to a Heritage Project by a Young Person’ category for his voluntary work at the Belfast Hills Partnership’s Community Archaeology Digs.
The Belfast Hills Partnership nominated Tom into the Ulster Architectural Heritage Societies prestigious ‘Heritage Angel Awards’. This award aims to celebrate the efforts of local people, who have saved historic buildings and places and is funded by the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation and the Department for Communities. This is the first year that Northern Ireland has taken part in this UK wide Award Scheme.
For the past three years Tom, an Archaeology student has volunteered to work on the Belfast Hills community archaeology dig outreach project and shared his knowledge and experience with the participating groups. Each dig has involved approximately 400 school children and 200 members of the public on various open days, training courses as well as walk & talk events. The aim of these digs is to bring the past to life, enabling local people to gain a better understanding and appreciation of their local heritage.
As a small charity the Belfast Hills Partnership budgets are limited meaning that they cannot afford as many archaeologists as they would like to work with the large numbers of both school children and members of the public who want to get involved in the project. Tom has not simply assisted staff, he undertook a major role in leading workshops with school groups, giving radio interview for the local press, undertaking flint knapping exhibitions for the general public, giving generously of his time with individual visitors who want to see finds uncovered from the site.
Lizzy Pinkerton Scheme Manager for the Belfast Hills Partnership said “Tom’s passion for helping people see the past in a whole new light is evident to everyone who has had the privilege of working with him. We often had to remind Tom that he needed to take a break, as he was so busy on site helping everyone else! Tom has been a Heritage Angel bringing history to life for hundreds of local people and we are thrilled that he has been recognised as such by a panel of judges.”
Tom said “I came to the community dig to gain experience in outreach archaeology, and it became an important aspect of how I view the role of community archaeology. The importance of communicating heritage with multiple audiences, and the skills to do this, required me to engage with members of the public in many challenging ways. I will always hold this experience as an influential aspect of my learning, motivating me to include all people in our shared heritage”.
As winner of the Youth Category Tom will now go on to represent Northern Ireland for best overall winner at a high profile ceremony in London on the 20th November.
Thanks must also go to Historic Environment Division of the Department for Communities, Heritage Lottery Fund and Big Lottery Fund who have supported different community archaeology digs in the Belfast Hills over the last few years, as well as QUB’s Centre for Archaeological Fieldwork and the Ulster Archaeology Society for all their hard work in undertaking the actual fieldwork. If you want to find out more about Archaeology in the Belfast Hills visit https://belfasthills.org/history-culture/ .