Historic Hendon: The Vision for Community

The RAF Museum's RAF Centenary LogoIn 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’.

RAF Hendon circa 1945

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.

The former Officer's Mess building, now Platt Hall of Middlesex University

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 local stories.

A Museum Volunteer engaging with the local community

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.

Co-discovery sessions were held in a variety of venues accessible to the local community

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 stories.

Historic Hendon is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund
The Heritage Lottery logo

About the Author

Joe Sullivan: Heritage Outreach Officer

As Heritage Outreach Officer for the Museum's London Site, I am responsible for working with various local community groups introducing the Museum's collection to them whilst assisting them in key events