St Helens Church

St Helens Church, Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Leicestershire

Interpreting the unique heritage of the Church site, which stands in the shadow of Ashby Castle

“This morning, I saw the displays in the Heritage Centre for the first time. They are utterly stunning. The quality of work and attention to detail are superb. Your imagination and experience have brought together our knowledge and ideas in a coherent form and produced a display we could never have dreamed of.

Julie Starkey
(Core Client Team – St Helen’s Church)

We were appointed for the implementation of this exciting HLF funded heritage project in our capacity as interpretive designers, as part of the multi-disciplinary team ‘Heritage Now’. The brief required the development of interpretation both within the Church itself and also more extensively at the adjacent Heritage Centre, which was undergoing a complete refurbishment and large building extension. Prior to the build there had been an extensive archaeological survey of the site, yielding many interesting artefacts and also shedding light on the physical history of the site – in particular with regard to other notable buildings nearby, including the Castle. An interpretation plan had already been developed, but there was a feeling that the many stories relating the St Helen’s could be better served with some fresh ideas for interpretive interventions. Our past experience interpreting churches, castles and other heritage sites helped to establish us as the right team for this challenging project.

A key aspect of the brief was that St Helen’s interpretation must complement other heritage sites around the town – most notably the Castle and Museum. Collaboration was important, as was engaging with the local community and schools. The interpretation had to be accessible to all regardless of culture or religion, and the Heritage Centre and Church had to be seen as open and inclusive. In addition, our interpretation had to be robust and could not compromise hire of the Heritage Centre spaces to local organisations and the public, nor could it impact on the Church’s central role as a place of worship. Spirit of place was a paramount consideration, yet any ideas we developed had to be exciting, engaging, and earn their place in the final agreed scope. We were allowed a net budget of just under £60,000-00 which was realistic but not luxurious.

Working closely with the core client team and Heritage Now, we developed an interpretive scope which we believed best served the brief, site and its stories. The scope included:

  • A Brand Stylebook which gave the Church and Heritage Centre a strong identity in the town

  • Heritage Centre Welcome – including an information panel and introducing William Hastings who built the Castle and raised the tower of the St Helen’s Church

  • A large 7 metre long Timeline in the main room of the Heritage Centre which told the history of the Church in the wider context of the town, using ten displayed artefacts discovered in the archaeological survey

  • Flying Through Time – a graphic showing the changing face of the Church and the wider site, including the castle, from the 11th century to the present day

  • Sundial wall – giving visitors close-up access to the unusual tower sundial, interpreting both its history and how it may be read to tell the time

  • Interpreting the Dig – a panel and case devoted to the archaeology of the site

  • Temporary Exhibition Space – a split-batten/hanging display system for curated exhibitions, together with four large panels which detailed notable characters from the history of the Church

  • Random facts – self adhesive text vinyls hidden around the Heritage Centre

  • Vis-Box digital interpretation – accessible with smartphones and tablets within the Church itself, including interpretive films and heritage trails around the site

  • Churchyard Welcome and Orientation Panels, together with removable object labels within the Church itself

It must be said that the client team were exceptional. They were enthusiastic, engaged, communicative and hugely supportive. We quickly became a part of the team, and there was a very real sense that we had come together to create something lasting and special for the Church. As is often the case, completing the project was a time of both celebration and sadness – we were all delighted with the results of our labours but also felt a sense of loss that such a wonderful project and fruitful collaboration had come to an end.

St Helens Church, Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Leicestershire
St Helens Church, Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Leicestershire
St Helens Church, Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Leicestershire
St Helens Church, Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Leicestershire
St Helens Church, Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Leicestershire
St Helens Church, Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Leicestershire
St Helens Church, Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Leicestershire