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Promoting engagement activities - 'Nottingham: Our Caves, Our Stories'

By Anna Walas, Community Archaeology Liaison Officer (AHRC City of Caves) at the University of Nottingham

Anna reflects on promoting and marketing an ambitious series of festival events exploring Nottingham's network of underground caves.

Can you tell us a little bit about your series of events for the 2022 festival? 

Our event series ‘Our City, Our Caves’ explored Nottingham’s urban heritage through its 870+ cave sites, street names and local collections. The festival coincided with a moment of place making for the city with the redevelopment of the Broad Marsh district, offered audiences new ways to engage with the heritage of their city, and spotlighted diverse community histories through tours, workshops, performances, and participatory experimentation with immersive technologies. 

Our headline event ‘What Lies Beneath?’ was an ambitious, interactive takeover of the Nottingham Contemporary and explored the latest collaborative work and research on Nottingham's cave sites. The event explored how the past can shape our visions of the future and the cultural identity of our city and brought together a range of partners and community groups.  

Who were the intended audiences for these events? 

Nottingham has a rich culture of community history and archaeology groups and there is a lot of interest in local heritage identities across the city. Our series was ideally placed to provide local communities with an opportunity to reflect on the city undergoing its second, and currently Europe’s largest, city-centre regeneration project. 

Intended audiences for our events ranged from recent migrants to the city, local families and children, community historians and budding young writers.  

A group of people standing in the Nottingham caves
Audience members standing in some Nottingham caves

With your audiences in mind, how did you work with your own institution and your partner organisations to promote these events? 

We developed a range of content and planned to engage with different age groups, interest groups and communities. We used our partners’ audience reach to target communities that are otherwise beyond the reach of the university. 

This included promotional work through community social media sites on Facebook and Twitter. We designed shareable social media event posters, worked with Visit Nottingham, a local event listing page called Left Lion as well as cultural hotspots such as bookshops, cafés and local libraries. We targeted local community groups though village halls and community gatekeepers. 

Partnership work also enabled free access to otherwise chargeable spaces, enabling our audiences to access spaces that they may not otherwise enter, especially given the cost-of-living crisis. This worked in the context of promoting free things to do in the city for families. Through targeted promotion we reached a range of audiences, including amateur historians, those who worked in buildings with caves, those who were part of self-organised communities protesting the original Broadmarsh development in the 1970s, storytellers, tour guides, heritage professionals, online heritage groups, families and migrants with interest in local history. We also encouraged our venues to promote our events directly to their audiences and in their marketing materials. 

You managed to secure some brilliant local press coverage for your events. How did you work with colleagues in your institution to work on local press and media? Were there any lessons learned? 

Give your press office plenty of time to research the best pitch. Starting early enables you to develop a communications plan and find the perfect timing for advertising in relation to news cycles and school holidays. Have a good think about what makes your programme newsworthy – why are your events worth your audience’s time?  

Our press release provided a point of conversation by highlighting the little-known uniqueness of Nottingham’s caves, which resulted in coverage in the Nottingham Post, on Notts TV, on BBC East Midlands Today TV and BBC Nottingham Online, which sparked a discussion on the BBC website with over 1,000 comments. The discussion revealed to us how little the UK public knew about the extent of Nottingham’s caves. We were also able to benefit from the festival's partnership with BBC Radio 3's Free Thinking, and an episode was broadcast on 'Going Underground' which was aired in October, ahead of the festival.

It is good to ask the question of how who you feature in TV and radio releases speaks to your target audience, in terms of age, gender and nationality. Our press team could count on us being flexible enough to respond to short notice, ad hoc press requests. If producers cannot get you to speak to them at a time that works for them, they will have to replace you with another feature as they are pressed for time to fill programming schedules. The hard work paid off as most of our events became fully booked within 3 days of the BBC announcement of our programme.  

Coverage on the BBC website

If you could have done something differently when it came to promoting the series of events, what would that be? 

We would have trailered some preview information about our events in various community and local society newsletters, which are often only published once a quarter or every six months. 

We would also have allowed for more time and capacity to develop the relationships that we made with community organisers through the process of promoting the events. Promoting public engagement activity can often result in new relationships being built between various types of community partners.  

Do you have any top tips you’d like to share with future organisers? 

  • It’s important to consider how you are going to promote and communicate your event from the very beginning of the planning process. If you are planning a small-scale experimental event, go for a small venue with an existing audience. This will help create a sense of familiarity for your audience. 
  • If you are planning a large event with multiple partners and multiple moving parts, ensure that you communicate across the partner groups and that everyone knows what agency they have within the event. Likewise, work with the partners to promote across multiple different channels.
  • Place-based partnerships can work very well to attract local audiences, but it is important to get a good sense of what histories or topics your local communities might be interested in learning more about.  
  • Finally, people, community groups, venues and organisations are more likely to promote an event if they and their interests are represented within it. This way everyone wins! 
A group of people in the Nottingham caves. The interior of the cave is long in length and is made up of red bricks and is lit by one bright light.
A tour through some Nottingham caves

Take part

This project was part of Being Human’s 2022 Small Award pathway. If you would like to be part of the festival, please visit our ‘Get involved’ page.

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