In August, at a time when parts of England were coping with riots and the youth of the country were coming under fire for their anti-social and criminal behaviour, in one part of Northumberland a group of teenagers were taking part in a remarkable project.
Dressed in period costume for the duration and without the aid of modern conveniences, they lived, learned, entertained, and even cooked for themselves according to the ways of the mid-Victorian era.
Dubbed the 1840s Heritage Big Brother, the 30 youngsters spent four days at Featherstone Castle in Northumberland, surviving without electricity, mobile phones, iPods, televisions or computer games, instead having to create their own entertainment as well as prepare their food from basic ingredients.
But just like the modern day Big Brother, the ‘housemates’ also had their own reflective diary room where they could record their thoughts on camera.
And now the resulting fly-on-the-wall documentary revealing how the teenagers coped with stepping back in time 170 years’, is being aired at Woodhorn in Ashington until the end of November.
Juliet Hardy, the creative mentor of NE-Generation, one of the groups behind Heritage Big Brother, admits she had been nervous about how the volunteers would cope with swapping the 21st century for the challenges of life in the 1840s.
But Juliet, who is based at Woodhorn and was one of the key figures who helped bring the project together, added: “In spite of our concerns, I think everyone found it an extremely rewarding project. The youngsters involved brought an amazing energy to the project and it was so rewarding to witness.
“I’m sure many people will now enjoy watching the film which is both thought provoking and entertaining, and finding out more about how the young people dealt with the challenges.”
Heritage professionals and youth workers ensured that the experience was as realistic and thought-provoking as possible so the teenagers were fully immersed in the period.
It was a collaboration between Northumberland Youth Service and Time Travel Northumberland, part of NE-Generation funded by Legacy Trust UK, an independent charity set up to create a lasting cultural legacy from the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games across the UK.
Ashley Brown, senior area youth worker from Northumberland Youth Service, commented: “From Northumberland Youth Service’s point of view, in the space of five days we saw young people develop and become incredibly articulate, skilful, committed and resourceful.”
Rebecca Flynn, one of the participants in the Big Brother event, said she learnt much.
“The thing I will take away from the week will be trying to take less things for granted now and spend more time with my family. It’s really nice sitting down and eating with other people and talking.”