It’s been 6 months since the Canalside Heritage Centre opened in Beeston Rylands, and it’s strange to think of the area without it. The once disused building has been given a new lease of life, and is giving back to the Rylands and Beeston community.
The centre is also home to a specially written children’s storybook, Dog and Duck’s Canal Adventure, which doubles as an artistic contribution to their wonderful upstairs display area. The book was written by Heather Green, and illustrated by her husband, Johnny. It was originally her project as part of her MA in Museum and Heritage Studies, but her lecturer and trustee of the centre, Duncan Grewcock, saw the potential for it as a display that would appeal to children.
The book follows the two characters, Dog and Duck, as they travel down the canal towards Nottingham. The catalyst for their journey is the construction of the heritage centre, momentarily disrupting their home.
I met up with Heather and Duncan at the Heritage Centre to find out more about the book, and why such projects are crucial to the community.
“The Heritage Centre were looking for an interpretive offer for children and young people and it made sense to do a picture book,” says Heather. “I’m doing a PhD at the moment which is looking at the use of creative writing as a tool for museums, and the idea was to explore this slightly different way of getting information and facts across about a heritage topic to an audience.”
Before opening, the Heritage Centre compiled some interpretive goals which Heather used to devise the narrative of the book: making a home, making a visit, and making a living based around the canal.
“My husband and I walked up and down [the canal] to try and get an idea of the route,” says Heather. “It was a good way of incorporating familiar scenes for people when they come to look and see the book, but also this idea of who might pass you by as you’re going along the canal.”
It’s really important to make the most of the green spaces that you have
In the book, while Dog and Duck are on their journey, they find an egg and take it with them. The story is about wondering what kind of creature might be inside the egg, taking inspiration from the things they see around them.
Heather adds: “One of the things we wanted to explore was what makes a home, particularly from a child’s perspective. Whether or not it’s the things you have or the place where you live. What is it that makes a home?”
As someone who has lived in the Rylands all my life, and paid frequent visits to the canal year on year, I couldn’t help but think about how the area has shaped my perspective of home, and how lucky I feel to live less than 10 minutes away from the canal. Duncan, however, moved here 3 years ago from London.
“One of the things I found out quite quickly was that there isn’t, in this area, a lot of heritage facilities,” he says. “The canal was so much loved and used for walking, cycling, running…but this place had become a bit of an eye-sore because it had been left derelict for 20 years. And one of the things that you got a picture of quite quickly was that how much genuine support there was to just do something with this building.”
This support and determination was entirely community-focused. “In another world, somebody might have turned it into a pub or something but I think turning it into a community facility, where there aren’t many, certainly not based on heritage, is important for everyone to have access to.”
Heather adds: “It’s really important to make the most of the green spaces that you have. And it’s a peaceful location here.” At this point, we fall silent and let ourselves take a moment of appreciation for our surroundings by glancing out of the window at nature. It’s a moment of quiet pride.
One of the great things about Dog and Duck’s Canal Adventure is that it’s unique to the centre. It features in the book through illustration and photographs, even with small touches such as the centre’s wallpaper design, making it truly personal. The book was also a contribution to UNESCO Nottingham City of Literature, something Duncan and Heather are very proud of.
“We’re keen to see what more we can do in that context to spread the benefits of the City of Literature as an idea,” says Duncan. “It’s been popular in the shop, and it’s a fantastic addition to the displays as well.”
Manager of the Heritage Centre, Jenny, reveals that they did quite a large print run of the book, but that they’d be happy to print more if they all sold out. She says: “It’s a good seller for us; our bestsellers in the shop are the things that are specific to here.”
Heather adds: “That’s really what the City of Literature is about, inspiring new fiction, and new writing, using heritage and culture.”
Make sure you visit the Heritage Centre, peruse the local-inspired gifts, have a cuppa with a friend, and keep an eye out for fellow Beestonians, Dog and Duck.