Historic Hendon: The Vision for Community
In 2018 The RAF Museum is celebrating the Centenary of the
Royal Air Force through a multi-million pound transformation of its site, with
new displays and exhibitions. One of the key parts of the Centenary plan is to
tell the story of ‘Historic Hendon’, focusing on sharing the historical
significance of the Museum’s site as the London Aerodrome and RAF Hendon.
The Museum has been working with local people and community partners over the
last year to develop interpretation and activities that reference the site and
the local area’s unique airfield heritage. Historic Hendon is supported by a
grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, to help develop some of these activities,
which has presented some exciting opportunities for the Museum to look at a new
way of telling stories.
The key vision in the Historic Hendon interpretation project
has been to bring local visitors to the heart of our site. With the re-design,
a large new green space will be created in the middle of the Museum site, with
a perimeter track that echoes the former airfield track linking all of our
buildings together. As a free entry site, we are keen to encourage local people
to come and visit, and spend time using the new space. Intrinsically, this linked
the green space and the community together. It followed that the stories we
told in the green space at the heart of the site should also relate to our
local community, and tell the local story of ‘Historic Hendon’.
I came to the Museum in March 2016, to take up the first
ever community-focussed post at the RAF Museum. The Museum had worked with the
local community on a regular basis prior to this, but I soon set about talking
to our local stakeholders and visitors.
Two things overwhelmingly emerged from months of conversations:
1. Many in the local community did not know that the RAF Museum existed despite our prior efforts!
2. Even more people did not know that they lived on what used to be an airfield!
The RAF Museum’s London site is situated on the former location of RAF Hendon, but the history of the area as an airfield goes much further back than the RAF. In 1909 Everett & Edgecombe built a small aircraft on the site, and in 1911 Claude Grahame-White purchased the land, established a flying school, and named it the London Aerodrome.
Later the land was purchased by the government in 1925, and RAF Hendon came
into being. The last aircraft landed at Hendon in 1968, and the Museum opened
in 1972 in four of RAF Hendon’s former hangars. The aerodrome was slowly broken
up and sold off as land for housing, with the Grahame Park Estate being
constructed, and new residents moving to the area from all over the world –
something we are seeing again in the modern day as 10,000 new homes are
currently under construction in Colindale. Reminders of the airfield still
survive through historic locations and buildings such as Aeroville, Aerodrome
Stores and the Officer’s Mess (which is now student halls!); through road, house, and building names; and of course, through the
memories of local residents.
We knew that the key way to tell these stories on-site was
through our collections. We have an incredible collection of over 3,000 objects
that relate to the history of Hendon and Colindale, including images from 1911
when the site was a grass field, all the way through to construction of the
Grahame Park Estate and RAF Museum in the 1970s and 1980s. These objects and
images spark memories and fascination for many of our local community, who still
remember the site as a base and will remember events in the local area – my own
dad even remembered going to the last Hendon air display in the 1960s! I
thought it important to find out what local people wanted from the Museum, what
they knew already about local history, and how we could work together to tell
In February 2017, we hired Aberrant Architecture, a design
company based at Central Saint Martins College in London, to work on the
project alongside the Museum Interpretation & Exhibitions team. Aberrant
Architecture proposed a two-part process of ‘Co-Discovery’ and ‘Co-Design’ workshop
sessions involving staff, volunteers, visitors, and members of local community
groups working together to discover and identify key themes that help tell the
local story of the RAF in Hendon.
In total six Co-Discovery workshops were held
at the Museum and in community locations including The Chandos Arms pub, the
One Stop Shop on Grahame Park, and the Barnet African and Caribbean
Association. Inviting the community to discover, identify and design the
stories they were interested in rather than dictating to visitors the stories
we wanted to tell signified an important change in the Museum’s approach to
storytelling: bringing local people to the heart of the site to tell their
Historic Hendon is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund