Learn How To Make A Local History Trail In Your City

My Brighton and Hove | 01 June 2002
shows a photograph of the back of a man walking down a sunny lane

© MB&H

Do you want to try your hand at making a local heritage trail?

Read our guidelines developed by the award-winning community history website My Brighton and Hove to learn how to work with volunteers and get them writing about their local history and heritage.

Wherever you live, we hope these guidelines will encourage you to get involved and make a web trail about your local landscape and history.

These guidelines are based on the way My Brighton and Hove created its online History Trail through Brighton for Culture24. We’ve added some details of our personal experiences to these overall guidelines and links to copies of some useful documents.

The instructions describe how a group of people can get together and make a history trail. The process is designed so that no one single person has to do too much work!

The idea is that, while a couple of individuals create the main commentary for the route, other volunteers collect additional stories and photographs inspired by places along the route.

The overall timetable for the project is three months. This if you’ve already got all the volunteers you need. If you haven’t you need to add another month.

Our history trail around Brighton can be seen on the My Brighton and Hove site as well, at www.mybrightonandhove.org.uk/historytrail.htm

You can read about the experiences of some of the volunteers who worked on our History Trail at the end of this document.

shows a map with black and red routes marked on it.

Your trail doesn't always have to be a mapped route but maps are an obvious means of showing people the way. © My Brighton and Hove.


Decide on the route

Guideline: Your history trail could be a real walking route. Alternatively, it could be a set of related places that aren’t linked by a physical walk.You could ask your main tour guide to decide on the route, or you could do it collaboratively. You could even involve the local community in a poll!

If you want to create a real walking tour, there are some practical considerations. The route should take less than 90 minutes to walk. It should be attractive and varied as a walk in itself. It shouldn’t involve too many hills! Early on, try walking the route to see what’s it’s like.

Our experience: For our My Brighton and Hove History Trail, we decided to do a real, physical walk that started at the station and ended up at the local museum. This was because our main target audience was visitors to the city, and we wanted to promote the museum.

We asked our main tour guide, a local historian called Geoff Mead, to choose the route. We altered the first proposed route after walking it, to make it a little shorter. In the past, however, we have created tours of Brighton that weren’t linked by a walk. Instead, we just asked local people to choose eight places in the city that interested them and linked these together into a tour. So we ended up with the Schoolchild’s Tour, the Taxi-Driver’s Tour, the Pensioner’s Tour – and so forth.

shows a screen shot of a page from the website with pictures and text on it.

As you build a trail you can add in extra pieces of information, like this piece that someone has written about local building materials, as you go along. © MB&H.

Establish the format

Guidelines: Decide on the format in which the tour will be presented (e.g. on the web, in a leaflet, as a newspaper feature). You might want to produce the tour in more than one format. Determine the number of words and number of photos you need, so you can brief the guide and the volunteers. One important task is creating a map. You can’t simply photocopy an Ordnance Survey map for copyright reasons, so you need to do some original design work on it.

Our experience: We were presenting the tour on the web, though we may produce a History Trail leaflet at some point in the future. Our word length for the main tour was 1,000 words, to be accompanied by 15 photos.

Extra features about places on the route provided by volunteers were to be no more than 750 words. We did a mock-up of the web pages very early on, though we didn’t do the final graphics until very late in the project. You can see our final map here. It was really useful having the map created early in the project!

shows a photograph of a man wearing glasses

Local historian Geoff Mead. © My Brighton and Hove

Choose a guide

Guidelines: Choose one person to be the ‘tour guide’. He or she needs to produce a short commentary about each stage/place of the route. The guide could write this commentary – or someone else could interview the guide and write/edit the words.

Our experience: We chose a local historian called Geoff Mead, who already conducts walking tours in the area. We recorded Geoff talking about the route and then edited his commentary to create the tour.

Choose a main photographer

Guidelines: Choose one person to photograph the route. It’s easiest to do this after the commentary is produced, so the photographer knows what to look for.Take photographs in the direction in which a person would be walking (if it’s a walking tour). Take a several different shots of each main location, including master shots and details.

Our experience: We asked our photographer to photograph the route twice. The first time he photographed the complete route – taking about five images of each place on the route. The second time was a mop-up; he took a specific list of particular shots that we felt were needed to complete the trail. We used photos taken by other volunteers as well as photos taken by the main photographer to illustrate the trail.

shows a photograph of a map showing strip field sytems in olde Brighton

Additional content might include old maps of the area you are researching. © My Brighton and Hove

Develop additional content

Guidelines: Draw up a list of additional stories and photos based on the route. To do this, get together a small group of people as a think-tank. Split the route up into stages, or identify the key places.

For each stage or place, the think-tank should identify additional photos that volunteers could take, people they could interview, or research they could undertake.

These projects should be relevant either to the particular location or to a theme suggested by that location. Make a list of these mini-projects so that volunteers can choose which one(s) they want to do.

Our experience: This was the most successful aspect of the My Brighton and Hove history trail project. We discovered that most volunteers wanted a clear, specific bite-sized project to do.

You can see our list of mini-projects here. All the projects were specific and bite-sized and the volunteers came back with some great material. We also gave volunteers the opportunity to make up their own projects. One volunteer chose to create a photo gallery about a churchyard along the route.

Recruit volunteers (if necessary)

Guidelines: Put out an advert asking for volunteers. Finding local e-mail lists is the cheapest way to do this. Stress it’s a time-limited project (no more than three months) and you want photographers/interviewers/researchers.

Our experience: Our advert for volunteers read like this:


In 2004, My Brighton and Hove is creating a city trail for the 24 Hour Museum. We're looking for volunteer interviewers, writers, researchers and photographers to collect material about the route, which starts at the Station and ends at the Pavilion. You can contribute just a few hours or take part throughout the 12-week project.

shows a colour photograph of the outside of a pub called the Black Lion. It has a pebbled frontage and a Dutch-type merchant's crane and window at the top

When 'researching' your trail try to get beyond the local boozer...© My Brighton and Hove


Allocate tasks

Guidelines: Present the list of projects to the volunteers and let them choose which one they’re interested in. Give them clear guidelines about word length and number of photos. Give them a handout about the project for contributors (e.g. the people they interview).

This should make it clear what the project is about and what will happen to any material they supply (e.g. copyright issues and return of loaned material). Set clear deadlines – probably about six weeks is right, with a checkpoint at three weeks to see how everyone is getting on. Establish some way that everyone can keep in touch with one another (e.g. a list of phone numbers, an e-mail list)

Our experience: We made a handout for contributors - see the handout here as a Word file

Create the main tour

Guidelines: While the volunteers set to work, the photographer and the guide should make the main tour. Volunteers should have freedom to set about their own tasks in their own way. When doing an interview, for example, some people may want to take notes and others use a tape recorder. At the end of the six weeks, everyone should bring their material back. Share it around and celebrate it!

Our experience: Some My Brighton and Hove volunteers describe their own experiences at the end of this document. They cover:

How they set about their projects
The results
What they felt about it

shows a photograph of a Railway station roof interior. There is a platform sign (number 6) and the girders are painted light blue.

If your trail is a web-based project, good photography will really bring your work to life! © My Brighton and Hove


Edit and build the tour

Guidelines: Allow three weeks for editing and stitching together the final project. You should probably ask just one or two people to do the editing. The more people involved in the editing, the more time-consuming it will be. Make sure everyone has a chance to review the final draft of their piece and correct inaccuracies or make amendments if necessary.

Design publicity and send out a press release

Guidelines: Decide what sort of launch event you’re going to have. For example, you could arrange a special ‘walk of the trail’, record people’s comments at the end and add these to the tour. Remember to invite all contributors to the launch. Celebrate! Hold a project review meeting to learn from your experiences.

Our experience: We distributed leaflets to all the houses and shops along the route of the Trail.

shows a photograph of a smiling young woman

My Brighton and Hove History Trail Volunter Louise Halvardsson © My Brighton and Hove


Read how these volunteers made contributions to the Brighton History Trail.

Louise Halvardsson has been in Brighton and Hove for two years. Louise really loves Brighton and that’s why she wanted to become involved in the History Trail. She came as a language student, and as with so many student visitors, she liked the city so much she never left.

Her contribution to the History Trail was a piece about ‘first impressions on arriving in the city’, which was linked to the section of the Trail about Brighton Station. Louise also interviewed friends of different nationalities about their experiences. She interviewed people from Sweden, her own country; Colombia; Spain and Germany.

Helen Diamantopoulo is just starting out as a professional photographer and took photographs around St Nicholas' Church to create her own photo gallery for the History Trail. Helen was brought up in Brighton and Hove and was particularly interested in the strange atmosphere surrounding this old church.

“I wanted to focus on that area as it seems to attract all sorts of people seeking a quiet moment to themselves and I'm interested in the idea of how we all relate to death!"

"We go about our lives trying to cram in as many experiences as we can before we die: does this then translate as a fear of death, I wonder? And yet we choose to seek refuge amongst the dead for a peaceful moment!"

"I find this quite bizarre and just wanted to make a point of this. Yes, I enjoyed the project very much and in terms of preparing photos for the web I had a massive learning curve which is always good.”

shows a black and white photograph of a man in a graveyard reading his paper

One of Helen Diamantopoulo's photographs. © Helen Diamantopoulo

Pam Blackman very much enjoyed working on the project and found it fascinating because of her interest in Brighton and Hove’s history. She is in the middle of a Life History Work Certificate at Sussex University, which she is doing part-time. As part of her course she has done several oral history interviews so she relished the opportunity to record more stories of individuals' experiences of living and working in Brighton.

Her interviewees included Ken Fines, who was the Brighton Planning Officer during the 1970s and 1980s, and helped to save an area of the city called the North Laine from demolition. Although now 81 he still takes an active interest in Brighton's development. She got involved because she liked the idea of a city trail as an internet project, would could include a variety of perspectives and viewpoints on Brighton and allow people to divert from the main route.

Rosie Page has lived in Brighton for three years. She chose to work on three quite different pieces: interviews with residents of Clifton Terrace, because she lives around the corner; an interview with Bert Williams, author of the Black History of Brighton website, because she feels that minority histories are often neglected; and an interview with Geoff Mead, the historian and geographer, because of her interest in the local landscape.

“I found the project by chance on the internet and became involved because I’ve been so happy in Brighton and wanted to give something back. I expected it to be interesting, but I was surprised by how much I learnt by doing it.” She now wants to go on to do more work for www.mybrightonandhove.org.uk

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