In March 2020, the Kent Maps Online project became an approved activity provider for the Duke of Edinburgh scheme, offering volunteering and skills opportunities for Bronze, Silver and Gold participants. Read Alexa Barrett’s (student ambassador) and Hannah Jennison’s (Gold participant) experiences of the scheme and how it has helped them both in their studies and career aspirations.
During my first year at Canterbury Christ Church University, I became involved in article writing for Kent Maps Online. The second lockdown had just taken hold in the UK and the project provided a brilliant opportunity to develop my research skills from home, guided virtually by a mentor who had previously worked on the project.
Throughout the process of volunteering, I developed skills in article writing and researching local figures. My interest in teaching drew me to the Kent Maps Online Duke of Edinburgh project, where I could take my role as a Student Ambassador and combine it with sharing my skills gained from Kent Maps Online volunteering.
During Duke of Edinburgh sessions, I assisted in the creation of a Tweet deck for famous Kent births and deaths, allowing participants to research local figures whilst seeking to intrigue twitter users into viewing the site. I additionally helped with the running of sessions such as research into Dover Castle’s history. We created a collaborative environment for students to engage with a task on shared software so they could see their work, and others, in real time as it developed.
The Duke of Edinburgh sessions allowed me to gain confidence in leadership and aided my studies in humanities, where I could put into practice my skills in researching and develop a deeper understanding for research methods by teaching this to others. My time as both a volunteer for Kent Maps Online and an Ambassador of their Duke of Edinburgh project has ultimately created depth in my understanding of local history and inspired me to get others involved in Kent’s past.
I saw the opportunity to volunteer for Kent Maps Online while searching on the DofE website. Not only was it an ideal opportunity for me as the online delivery meant I could reliably volunteer each week during the pandemic from where I live in Scotland, but as an English Literature student with an interest in archival work, books, history, and writing – all things involved in the work Kent Maps Online do – it seemed like it would be a great fit. I sent them an email, and before too long I was part of the team!
Since starting my volunteering, I have learnt about subjects that I was already interested in, like various authors and poets, and things that were completely new to me – the Plum Pudding Riots, for example! I have also brushed up on a lot of research skills, such as skim-reading sources and how to use and cite images from Wikimedia. As well as this being really useful for my studies, university research can get a bit serious and single-tracked, so it has been refreshing being able to research fun topics that I would not normally come across.
At the start of my volunteering 6 months ago, all the volunteers worked together on a project to research the Spanish Armada and its connection to Kent, and this information was then collated into an article for the website. I knew very little about this topic and it is quite a complex one, so breaking it down amongst us was a good idea. I learnt a lot from this first project as I got a sense of what Kent Maps were looking for and which research sources were best to use.
The activities over the next few weeks were focused on finding out about interesting people or events in Kent history that could be researched and turned into articles. I researched author John Lyly, gardener and natural historian John Tradescant the Younger and naturalist and Professor of Chemistry at Oxford Robert Plot. I was very pleased that my research on the latter two historical figures, who were involved in the establishment of the first public museum (The Ashmolean, Oxford University) were turned into articles with the help of Dr Dominique Gracia.
One of my favourite topics that we researched was Kent archaeology. We used the BBC programme ‘The Great British Dig’ as a basis from which to research the Anglo-Saxons who settled in Kent in the 5th century. The next week, we had to pick an archaeological dig that happened in Kent and research it further. I found out about the Ebbsfleet elephant discovery, not knowing that there were elephants roaming Britain at one stage (the Lower Palaeolithic period, around 425,000 – 375,000 years ago)!
In the following weeks, we researched World War II in Kent, and I looked at Operation Fortitude South, followed by the destruction caused by Doodlebugs in Kent known as ‘Hellfire Corner’) during the war. This was turned into an article which I worked on, meaning I could put to use all the skills I had learnt so far. I have since researched artists in the 20th century, researched map archives, made a Twitter trail about Charles Dickens’ last book, written a newspaper article, and searched for sources on Kent poetry and books. It is always exciting to find out what we’re doing week on week!
I’d like to say a big thank you to all the Kent Maps Online team (Michelle, Carolyn, Eloise, Elizabeth, Alexa and everyone else who has taken the time to help us) who are there every week to support us through our volunteering. I have found the information I have learnt as part of the volunteering really helpful for an internship I went on to do with my university. I now have around 2 more months of volunteering left to complete my Duke of Edinburgh volunteering section, and I’m looking forward to what else I will discover. I would encourage anyone reading this to join in with the project!
If you would like to know more, you can visit Duke of Edinburgh