What better way to spend a sunny afternoon than sitting on a bench taking in a nice view in a pretty Essex village? Sitting on a talking bench taking in a nice view!
The Essex Sound and Video Archive (ESVA) at the Essex Record Office has been installing talking benches across Essex. These park benches with speakers installed are loaded with historic recordings from the Archive. While sitting on the bench in Castle Park, Colchester, you can hear memories of visiting the Castle when it was roofless.
Or try the bench by the war memorial in Great Waltham to hear about the shops that used to line the nearby streets.
These listening benches are part of a Heritage Lottery Funded project run by the ESVA, called You Are Hear: sound and a sense of place. For the project, we are digitising and cataloguing a number of the unique recordings in the Archive to better preserve them. We are then making them freely available online through our Essex Archives Online catalogue .
Once digitised, we are taking the recordings out into every corner of the county – including through these talking benches. Volunteers from different communities have reviewed our recordings about their area, selected the best bits, and edited them together into montages for the bench. The volunteers have also used their local knowledge to decide on the ideal location for each bench.
Most of the recordings come from oral history interviews with long-term residents of the community. These memories describe buildings that have disappeared and businesses that have changed hands. They also reveal a different way of life: life without electricity and indoor plumbing; life where everyone knew each other’s business – and had plenty to say about it!
Map showing the location of the listening benches being installed this summer
How many benches can you find? Check our Essex Sounds website for the location of each bench. Then send us a #benchselfie of you with the bench, and tell us which clip is your favourite (@essexarchive on Twitter, or The Essex Record Office on Facebook)!
The website also lists the venues for our touring benches, and for our touring audio-video kiosks.
Next year, we plan to install another ten benches in additional locations. Please get in touch if you would like to be part of installing a listening bench in the following locations: