Developing First World War centennial commemorations in Staffordshire

Staffordshire’s Great War commemorations are bringing the momentous events of this period to life through events, exhibitions and activities.

In 2012, Staffordshire County Council secured £80,000 from Arts Council England to scope plans, survey local people and develop a strategy for its First World War centennial commemorations. Work began with a strategy outlining the work streams and project legacy, and the council also set up a cross-party steering group to deliver the outcomes. The survey of local people showed particular interest in the Cannock Chase area, which has war cemeteries and hosted the Great War camps, training men for the trenches. People were also interested in learning about the impact of the war on their own communities.

As well as taking a leading role in the commemorations, Staffordshire County Council has been supporting other organisations and community groups to deliver their own projects and events. A key challenge has been how to maximise opportunities for engagement, involvement and learning across the county.

Impact of the project

A programme of events is running from 2014-19. By 2016, over 80 projects, events, exhibitions and activities had been delivered across Staffordshire. There has been a clear focus on seeking external funding, with more than £500,000 received, and on reaching as many local communities as possible. Just under 200,000 people were involved in the 67 events and projects delivered up to February 2016, including 26 different organisations and local groups. The Centennial Strategy has achieved its aims of getting more people involved in local history, as shown by the number of attendees and also by how many organisations have produced a book, exhibition or event focused on the Great War and their local place.

Individual projects have included:

  • Opening access to the records of Staffordshire’s Great War Local Military and Appeal Tribunals: about 15,000 records will be accessible online.   
  • An exhibition of artworks reflecting on the Great War, touring Staffordshire’s museums.  
  • An exhibition looking at how war changed the lives of people living at a local stately home, created by Staffordshire County Museum Service.
  • ‘Chase Through Time’: working with Historic England and local volunteers, this £96,000 project will involve creating a 3D map and historic research at Cannock Chase, helping to tell its hidden story.

Among the project’s success factors are:

  • Getting up-front funding for the initial research, which informed the strategy and programme and was used to support other funding bids.
  • The creation of a dedicated officer post to coordinate the council’s activity and support local groups to develop their own events.
  • Regular conferences across the county for local groups to showcase their work and learn about county initiatives and funding opportunities.
  • Strong branding, a website and use of social media to promote the centennial has worked really well. There is a dedicated website:

Gill Heath, Cabinet Member for Communities and the Environment at Staffordshire County Council, said:

The Great War Centennial has provided a real opportunity for local communities to find out about how their place was affected by the war. They have used the council’s collections, services and expertise to help them commemorate their own Great War experiences and have enthusiastically supported our own projects, so that a real partnership has emerged.

Key learning points

  • Bidding for a single larger and longer project could have offered more consistency over the centennial but may not have produced the same variety of events.
  • There were challenges in getting coverage across the county so that certain areas did not dominate.
  • Community groups need a lot of support to encourage them to bid for funding – many are put off by the application process.

For further information contact Joanna Terry, Head of Archives & Heritage, Staffordshire County Council: [email protected]


This case study has been developed in conjunction with Arts Council England