A History of the Dowty Group
Sir George Dowty HonFRAeS was one of the great names of twentieth century aerospace manufacturing. His post-World War I innovations led to him creating the specialist firm focusing on the landing gears that were used on Lancasters, Typhoons and Halifaxes and which bore his name.
Ally McConnell, Archivist at Gloucestershire Archives, talked about the life and work of the great man and how his company evolved during the twentieth century. She also explains how the story emerged during a project to catalogue the company’s archives and thorough a recently unearthed autobiography that was completed weeks before Dowty’s death and recently published as Sir George Dowty, In His Own Words.
Published by Hobnob Press
Ally presented her webinar to the RAeS Gloucester & Cheltenham Branch on 19 January 2021, it was introduced by Oliver Towers FRAeS and the audio recording was edited by Eur Ing Mike Stanberry FRAeS.
Click on image to see the webinar
For the audio recording and more information visit www.aerosociety.com/news/audio-video-a-history-of-dowty-group-by-ally-mcconnell/
EDITOR's note: Congratulations to Ally and all the volunteers who contributed to the cataloguing of the huge Dowty archive as a major strand of the 'For the Record' transformation project. It's great to see all these additional extra-curricular activities emerging too as a result of opening up the archive. Well done and thanks to all concerned.
A little bit about community heritage, and what it means
The team of staff I work with, at Gloucestershire Archives, is called the PLOT (Partnerships, Learning & Outreach) Team.
Community heritage is an integral part of what the Heritage Hub was set up to promote. If community groups want advice or support in gathering, keeping and sharing their documented heritage they can come to us and have a discussion, attend some of our training, pitch a funding bid (which we can help with) and talk through their plans. In an average year, we can receive around 6 or 7 such enquiries. Recent community groups have included a village history group, an African-Caribbean history group, a local history society, a film-maker wanting to document the experiences of older people, a primary school wanting to do a heritage project all about their neighbourhood, involving students and parents, and a whole range of others.
We receive requests from a wide range of organisations (some of them focussed on heritage, some of them not) to work in partnership with them to bring their project to fruition. Occasionally, this means signing a partnership agreement – making explicit what each of the partners will contribute to the project. But, more often, it’s about what we can contribute “in kind”. This could be support and guidance, staff time, becoming part of their project management team to advise on each stage of their project or whatever it is they need us to do.
One typical project we’ve been asked to provide some support to is “The Rainbow Street” project. This is an ordinary street, in Gloucester, of older terraced houses. A new householder moved in a few months ago, and she is an artist and a community activist. She painted the outside of her house in a bright colour, and all the other house-owners did the same – the street now comprises houses painted, on their exteriors, in bright reds, orange, yellows, greens and has earned national recognition of a community coming together. The artist has approached us, saying there are some interesting folk living in the street, many of them interested in history. Some have lived in their properties for 5 or 6 decades. So we’ve talked about doing oral history interviews with the residents of this street – capturing their memories of the street, the neighbourhood, the local shops and schools, the history of their houses, their street and their community. It is an example of what may be called ABCD – asset based community development. The street is in a neighbourhood that has its fair share of urban social and economic issues. But the community has come together, with a shared passion – brightening up the street, encouraging collective action, taking pride in place, looking out for one another – and restored a sense of neighbourliness. And all this through heritage.
Part of the vision for the Heritage Hub is that its partners will share their expertise, learn from each other, collaborate on big projects and offer reciprocal support. For example, in January 2022, the 1921 census will be published, and we’re already talking with onsite partners about how we might do something, together, to mark this occasion, such as a workshop for members of the public.
This very collaborative way of working is refreshing, and something I’ve not experienced in my working life before. By collaborating, you can easily share resources, exchange ideas, offer solutions, and get the job done (whatever it might be!) far more quickly than going solo.
Community heritage work can focus on literally anything – as we’ve seen with the Rainbow Street example, above. It can be a tool for revitalising a sense of community, improving a neighbourhood, building relationships, learning together and, indeed, celebrating identity (as with many of the minority ethnic community projects we support). But it also captures, for generations to come, people’s memories, thoughts, impressions and feelings. It is a snapshot, in so many ways, of what it’s like to live in a particular place, do a particular job or deal with today’s events large or small (like the coronavirus pandemic) in the early years of the twenty-first century.
Our core reason for existence is to share, and keep, our collections, dating back nearly 1,000 years. But collections don’t exist in a vacuum; to keep them relevant they must grow, be added to and reflect the here and now. Gloucestershire Archives is keen to reflect the experiences of people today – the diversity of life in Gloucestershire, the concerns of our residents right now, their experiences, and their memories.
Community heritage is just that. It’s about community. And it’s about heritage. In striving to share it, we learn so much about each other. And that has to be one of the best things about working in this sector.
Sally Middleton – Community Heritage Development Manager.
New Ancestry content
In association with Gloucestershire Archives, the Gloucestershire, England, Church of England Marriage and Banns, 1754 – 1938 collection on Ancestry has been updated.
7,387 records have been added to the collection of 1,491,220 records. Most of the new indexes cover the parish of Tewkesbury for which some previously missing marriage records have been added.
Parish registers are one of the most important record types as they help lay the foundations for people to build out their family trees. This makes them amongst some of the most valuable and best used content sets with our users.
Where there have been opportunities to digitise and publish parish collections, the aim is to keep the collection as complete as possible. This means adding records after the initial launch, particularly when additional years fall outside of privacy restrictions or material becomes newly accessible.
In doing so, Ancestry aims to ensure that their online parish register offering mirrors what is available in the reading rooms of archives too.
Gloucestershire Archives accreditation
We’re delighted to report that Gloucestershire Archives has again been awarded Accredited Archive Service status. We’d particularly like to thank staff, volunteers, partners, stakeholders and funders for their contribution to this award.
The Accreditation Panel which made the award:
“…welcomed this impressive application from a reflective, committed service, which has demonstrably used Accreditation to improve since its first award.
The Panel particularly commended the volunteer programme which shows
great thought and care for their volunteers. They also welcomed the impressive audience understanding work across multiple types of stakeholders…. They were delighted to see Gloucestershire Archives thriving and continuing to develop to meet the needs of the communities of Gloucestershire.”
The scheme is run by The National Archives and involves assessment against a rigorous quality standard set for public and private sector archives in the UK.
To find out more about accreditation visit www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/archives-sector/archive-service-accreditation/
Volunteer and Customer Surveys – Why Do We Do Them?
Each year, we hold an annual volunteer survey, and a separate customer survey. We always welcome feedback – whether suggestions, complaints or compliments – and try our best to respond constructively to these. We already have a very active customer focus group – the Heritage Hub User Group – and they hold meetings once a quarter, to discuss these very issues. And we’re thinking of setting up a similar focus group specifically for young people, so we can consider and learn about their needs.
So why do we hold volunteer and customer surveys? Well, we see it as part of our responsibility, to gather feedback. It’s part of what we say we will do. And it reflects our commitment to learning from you, meeting the needs of our Heritage Hub community and, most importantly, as a means of gauging how well we are doing!
This need for feedback came to the fore during the 2020-2021 pandemic. We started working in a very different way, using online platforms to deliver outreach, for example. Lots of us got involved in film-making, or giving talks online, and we invited feedback on these films. This feedback is so valuable, because it helps us to improve what we do. It also, we hope, offers you some investment in what we do – you are, after all, part of the Heritage Hub, you are all stakeholders in helping us promote heritage, and offer the best possible service we can.
In today’s world it is not good enough to provide a service, any service in any sector, and be complacent. We have to know that people are happy with what we do and how we do it. If people are unhappy, they can quickly influence others through, for example, social media. We’d far rather put things right before the issue snowballs.
But above all, we want to interact with our customers and volunteers, it is what keeps us relevant. And customers can tell us all sorts of things – about access, the ease of use of our online catalogue, the customer service experience, the quality of what we do, the friendliness of the welcome they receive at the Heritage Hub – which we might otherwise be unaware of. Volunteers, too, can tell us very useful information about exactly what it is they get from volunteering. Such information (always anonymous) can help us with very practical things like funding bids. It can inform policies, or make us reconsider the way in which we deliver our service.
So, if we ask you to complete a volunteer or customer survey, please do participate. You will be helping us in more ways than you can imagine!
Sally Middleton – Community Heritage Development Manager firstname.lastname@example.org
Archive management system update
We’ve been working hard at Gloucestershire Archives over lockdown to re-procure our archive management system. This is a key IT system for us here and enables us to have intellectual control over all our collections. It also publishes details of our holdings on the web.
We’ve been using the same system (CALM by Axiell) for nearly 20 years so the new system, (Epexio by Metadatis) will be a big change for us. One of the key reasons for making this change is to improve the experience our customers have of using the online catalogue which will be launching later in the Spring.
If you’re interested in helping us test the new system please drop us a line at email@example.com
Community garden update
After the disappointment of not being able to welcome anyone in to the new community garden during 2020 – the first spring and summer it would have been completely planted up and accessible to the community – we hope to welcome people into it once we come out of lockdown. In the meantime, Heritage Hub staff and volunteers have been working hard to make sure everything looks as good as it can be ready for the summer.
Jonathan, a local volunteer, was busy over the autumn last year doing weeding and cutting back of the flowers and herbs in our formal borders by the Dunrossil Centre. As a result, these are all starting to grow back and we think they will look fantastic in a few weeks’ time. We are excited to welcome community garden volunteers soon as well, when restrictions allow.
The winter border really came into its own in February and March this year, with hellebores, snowdrops and daffodils all coming into flower within a few weeks of each other. Yellow daffodils have also been flowering next to the car park outside the Family History Centre, and in the formal borders. Spring is definitely springing!
In mid March, Greenfields returned to dig a wildlife pond for us. This was very exciting as it had been a long time in the planning and it was great to see it finally happening. They also dug out all the grass from the new pond to the bee area so that we can sow wildflower seeds, which was very helpful as the grass would have taken ages to dig out by hand. The pond has now been planted up and looks great. Hopefully we’ll get some wildlife taking an interest in it soon!
The bees are doing well coming into spring having survived the cold winter. We now have three hives – just the one colony but we’re hoping to expand this into at least two by the end of the year. At the time of writing it is sunny and we’ve been watching the bees go foraging in all directions which has been wonderful (and a relief!) to see.
Finally, the interpretation panels for the garden were installed on 24th March by Typecraft. This was a wonderful joint effort and I think we can all agree they look amazing. The panels take the garden visitor past the Dunrossil Centre and all the way up the garden, explaining the history of the site, and enhancing our offer to visitors on the city’s heritage trail.
Ally McConnell - March 2021