Dean Paton is the managing director of BIG heritage. I chatted to him in Corks Out :
BIG heritage are a team made of largely archaeologists, and their role is to bring people and heritage together “connecting people to places and making peoples lives better through that. Its not just about doing it for tourism or for sake of heritage, its saying, can we make people healthier, more educationally aware, feel better about themselves, feel better about the world they live in.. through archaeology and heritage.
“It’s a long Chester story!” Dean replies when asked about the origins of the company. “I owe more to Chester university than anything. I went there as a mature student, an archaeological undergraduate. I was booted out from A levels, ended up wandering around and coming back as a mature student. My life was changed with an understanding of academic archaeology, I was pushed and prodded by Chester uni.. In terms of being bright enough to answer questions but then lecturers saying “no that’s that not good enough I want to push you even further”.
After completing his degree at Chester, Dean did a Masters at Oxford. “I went there because there was a lecturer from the Wirral who was really interested in the Viking period in the North west so I went to follow him. Chester encouraged me onto a business and entrepreneur scheme so I’d look at putting my ideas into a business. I had friends with kids who had never been to a museum.. all I did as a kid was go to museums and art galleries. Only because me dad would me all the time because we were skint! You get so much out of going to these places, it beguiled me why children wouldn’t go. That was the aim really. I started setting up for free, going into schools and talking about archaeology, how it connects to their local areas, and the place names etc. ” This lead to paid work as the company took shape, but there was a lot of hard work involved:
“At the time I was finishing my Masters, working nights for Wirral Autistic society, worked at a couple of care homes. BIG heritage began from me literally wiping the shit off the floor. The spare money I had , I’d buy a bit of kit, buy a few books, work on the website. It was like a hobby, but more of a passion.
“We went from there..I went to Riverside innovation centre and took up a small office there in 2011. ” The Uni offered support for Dean to turn his idea into a credible business and he moved out of the initial small office to accommodate staff. BIG currently employ 7 people, but Dean says that it will easily double in the next year. From their Chester beginnings, BIG have come full circle, and despite carrying out work all over the country, they returned to the innovation centre in January. “We were based in Wirral, we discussed moving to Liverpool, where there was lots of work and agencies.. Chester city was a big draw, with the Uni, plus you’re tripping over yourself with projects here. That may be to the detriment of instant impact, but in the longer term we feel we can make a big difference to the city.
So what have BIG heritage brought to Chester? “We’re not bringing anything to Chester, what it sometimes needs is a rocket up its arse! We get excited about it, I had a nickname at Uni “keen Dean”… as some sort of derogatory term, “he gets excited at anything, he turns up to the opening of anything… It does excite me.. everyone who works for our team has that passion. We dont bring the heritage, because its here. We bring the passion. We say “that’s fu**ing brilliant.. we need to be singing songs about that rather than just going “urrr” with disinterest, or taking the city for granted.”
He says that there is a level of complacency that needs to be challenged. theres nothing wrong with a bit of healthy competition. If we’re going to come and upset the apple cart, Ive been told by someone I’m a disruptive influence by someone I wont name. But you know what.. So what? That’s my job. I’m going to disrupt people and come up with new ideas. If its a good idea it’ll happen.If its a crap idea, you’ll have to come up with a better idea. We are disruptive. we’re young and full of energy and daft ideas. A biy of naïve energy is better than nothing.
In 2015 the team have been involved in a number of projects in Chester.
Chester Unlocked (see https://shitchester.wordpress.com/2015/06/08/chester-unlocked-press-launch/) involved displaying previously unseen artefacts from the museum archives in venues all over the city, from shops to cafes and more. Dean comments that “it was a huge success. It was put to the council a year and a half ago, I was chuckled out of the building. They said it wasn’t going to happen. A few changes at the council and some visionary staff at the museum.. Chester BID have also supported us.BID were saying yes when others said no to Chester Unlocked”
Chester Unlocked 2 is a possibility for 2016.
In June the Chronicle headlined with an article saying that Northgate St was the “28th worst street” in the UK, based on crime statistics. Responses across social media were swift and Dean starred in a short video in defence of the street.
Chester, Dean says, sometimes suffers from “lets all have a good moan about stuff” which is fine because everyones allowed to have an opinion . But sometimes it can all be a bit depressing. What are you doing instead? What are you doing to improve it if you hate it so much… Northgate street is a nice street and its not the 28th worst street anywhere, get a grip!
Dean, personally took an accidental starring role in Chester Pride, which was a massive success back in October. He positioned himself next to a small band of “religious protesters” with a placard, and was widely reported in the news, with a video of the incident getting 2.5 million views. ” I’m not gay, I have a lot of friends who are, but the point is when people stand back and allow people to be abusive about things that aren’t aimed at them…We should stand up for other people. People know I’m an atheist and I get a kick out of challenging people’s perceptions and their relevance today.. although I’m really good mates with people like Rev David Chesters, who would probably have doffed his cap to the sign in fairness.” The sign itself was a spur of the moment thing, printed at the last minute ..”I’m a gay icon for Chester which my wife is made up with!”
Community archaeology project Dig Blacon launched in August:
“We had done digs in Wirral and realised the benefits were more about people’s health and wellbeing. We worked with the public health team, there had never been a community dig in Chester before. There was a really interesting 4th century coin that was found by a kid in Blacon.. we had older people sitting there discussing their arthritis while looking at skeletons from the collections at the Grosvenor. We bring people together, someone said “I haven’t had a conversation with an another person for 2 weeks because I’m lonely and old” Heritage is a tool. You might not want to go to a Zumba class, or a knitting circle.. would you like to come to this talk about Blacon and its history? It was a huge success. He praises the support of Cwac in Blacon and believes that elected councillors often come in for some undeserved criticism.
For fans of historic stationery BIG also helped to showcase the pen that was used to sign the formal surrender of the Japan after WW2. The pen was displayed at the town hall. In October Chester Unlocked was boosted with the addition of three hoards of previously unseen treasure, from the Viking, Roman and Civil war periods.
There are many projects ahead in 2016, some of which are too secret to be mentioned yet. “It would be interesting if Chester unlocked 2 happened. It would be on a different scale. We have a good working relationship with the BID, who recognise that it has brought in footfall and increased dwell time.
“We are doing a history of medicine exhibition launching in July at the Grosvenor museum.” It will be opened by world expert from the British Museum with items loaned from Pompeii and Rome… “These are all coming to Chester! We are bringing world class stuff to the city!” he enthuses.
There will be a major project for Liverpool and specifically Everton, with Dean acknowledging that Chester has it’s own “Everton Mafia”. He jokes that the biggest boost to the economy will be him paying the bar bill at Corks Out for the recent staff night out.
So is Chester on the up ? ” I think it is and it needs a positive attitude. If an event happens that you’re not fussed about..like the coke truck.. I dont drink coke because I’m fat enough as it is, I drink beer.. Has it harmed you? Its bringing people in… Theres a negativity…
“Are we going to sit back.. Are we Slough, are we Milton Keynes.. no we’re Chester… Be proud of Chester and it might rub off onto people.! My big thing for next year is finding ways to make people stay in Chester for an extra couple of hours… that is my role in the newly formed Chester Growth Partnership..Chester should be a weekend city, but there isn’t enough to do.. I think that was the whole point of @ShitChester.. Chester needs more shit. Chester needs more stuff and it deserves it because its epic !