Situated on the slopes of Bennachie, remains of the hill’s 19th century crofting settlement are still visible to this day. But despite around 150,000 visitors every year, few people are aware of the history, heritage and community behind the Bennachie Colony.

Since 2010, Dr Jo Vergunst from the University of Aberdeen has been working closely with the local community and volunteer conservation society, the Bailies of Bennachie, to encourage interest in the history of the area. Commenting on his research, Dr Vergunst said: “The local community was extremely interested in finding out more about the Bennachie area and gaining a fuller understanding of its past. My research focuses on people’s relationships with their environments, so this was a fantastic opportunity to encourage recognition of the area’s cultural value and to get local people involved with researching the community history of this particular landscape.”

Engaging the community

Significant work was undertaken to uncover the archaeology of the Colony and to record its oral and archival history, which drew on the collective expertise of a group of academics from the University including Dr Liz Curtis, Dr Jeff Oliver, Dr Gordon Noble, Dr Jackson Armstrong and Mr Neil Curtis. The researchers worked closely with the wider community throughout the project, training volunteers and engaging local schools and the general public.

The project attracted national funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council – Connected Communities and the Heritage Lottery Fund, to allow the team the opportunity to disseminate the research findings to a wider audience. With further support from the Bailies of Bennachie and the University of St Andrews, the Digital Bennachie Colony Trail app was developed. Narrated by broadcaster, Mark Stephen, and Aberdeenshire storyteller, Grace Banks, the app allows users to explore a digital reconstruction of the crofting landscape and community, as well as the archaeology and archival history of the area.

Sharing knowledge

As a result of the project, a number of publications were written in collaboration with members of the community and local schools, who were encouraged to participate in all aspects of the research. Working in partnership with academic experts, local people gained new skills and experience in archaeology, history and anthropology and contributed significantly to a wider understanding of their local landscape and heritage.

Impact

  • Development of first ever digital app for Bennachie
  • Collaboration between interdisciplinary research academics attracted national funding for disseminating research to wider audience
  • Engagement with community led to new skills, training and experience for local people