Amgueddfa Cymru — National Museum Wales


For the last five years, St Fagans National History Museum has been a partner in the EU Culture-funded project, OpenArch.

OpenArch is an exciting project which aims to raises standards of management, interpretation and visitor interaction in those open-air museums that focus on Europe’s early history – archaeological open-air museums (AOAMs) as they have become known. AOAMs can be found right across Europe, bringing to life everything from Stone Age campsites to Iron Age farms, Roman forts and medieval towns. Their great strength is in the way in which they present their stories, often through detailed reconstructions and live interpretation.

The partners in this project are:


Archaeological-Ecological Centre Albersdorf, Germany

Archeon, Netherlands

C.I. De Calafell, Catalonia

EXARC, Netherlands

Exeter University, UK

Fotevikens Museum, Sweden

Hunebedcentrum, Netherlands

Kierikki Stone Age Village, Finland

Parco Archeologico e Museo all’aperto della Terramara di Montale, Italy

Viminacium, Serbia


And, of course, St Fagans National History Museum.


The project itself consists of three main strands: conferences and workshops, staff exchanges and activities.

Bronze Age house, Modena

OpenArch meeting in a reconstructed Bronze Age house in Modena, Italy

Almost all the partners have hosted conferences related to the main area they are covering in the project: management practices, visitor interaction, craft work, scientific studies and communication, among others. Many of these have attracted large audiences and all have been stimulating opportunities to share new ideas.

Staff exchanges have also been a key method of strengthening links between the partner organisations, with practitioners spending time working in one another’s institutions to help share best practice.

The activities that partners have undertaken have, of course, been very varied. For example, visitor surveys have been undertaken to help us understand how well we are serving the public, and scientific studies have been carried out to learn more about how life was lived in the past and how this can be shown to the public.


What has St Fagans done?

St Fagans has benefited tremendously from the project. Over the course of the last five years, around twenty members of staff from all parts of the museum have had the opportunity to see how their colleagues in other museums go about their work. It’s been a chance to share what we do well, and learn from others. On one exchange visit, staff from our Events team were able to see how public activities were organised by our partners at Archeon in the Netherlands. On another, our Iron Age learning facilitator helped out on an Iron Age themed event in Calafell, Spain. The experience has certainly given us a better appreciation of the benefits of European working and has helped us to develop further ideas for collaborative working with European partners.

Throughout the project we have been using the experience we’ve gained in OpenArch to improve the quality of the new Iron Age farmhouses which we’ve been building. For example, we learnt from the very high standards of interior display demonstrated by our colleagues in Modena in Italy and adopted their standards in the choice of display items; while the work of the Hunebedcentrum in the Netherlands helped in suggesting ways that we could improve our building maintenance programmes. Along the way we’ve shared what we’ve learnt and how we’ve applied it in presentations at conferences run by the partners.

Perhaps the high point of our involvement in the project was the conference that we ran in May 2015. We used this to focus the project on issues relating to the management of archaeological open-air museums, and over three days we looked at issues both theoretical and practical in the company of a very distinguished selection of speakers from across Europe.


Alongside the conference we ran a craft festival as a major public event – the first of its kind to be held at St Fagans in many years. Over the course of a packed day, we hosted around 50 craftspeople from across Wales and the UK, including colleagues from our partner museums who were with us on staff exchange. Together they put on a great show, demonstrating everything from metalworking to pot-making, leatherwork, painting, food preparation and lots more. Over 5,000 visitors came to visit and feedback was excellent.

More information about our involvement in OpenArch can be found on the project website:

Bryn Eryr roundhouses

The OpenArch partners meeting outside Bryn Eryr, our new roundhouses in May 2015.

Lecturer in Cathays Park

Mark Winter from the Ancient Technology Centre giving an inspiring talk on his organisation's child-centred philosophy, May 2015.

Werner Pfeifer, prehistoric craft specialist

Werner Pfiefer from the Archaeological-Ecological Centre Albersdorf demonstrating prehistoric crafts at the St Fagans craft festival in May 2015.

The OpenArch project is funded by an EU Culture grant.
This experiment has been made possible by the OpenArch project - a 5 year collaboration between 11 partners to improve standards in archaeological open-air museums.


By some miracle we have half-decent internet connection at the office. Actually it’s not a miracle, as I happen to know that the server providers were working on the problem over the weekend. I guess I just didn’t believe it would make any difference, any more than I believed that the designers I was supposed to be seeing on Friday would turn up, or that my ‘office’ would really only take a day to ‘decorate’ (the day in question being last Monday) or that my mail will ever turn up.

Ooh, all sounds a bit harsh I know. But I’ve just had my third frustrating visit to immigration, thinking I finally had everything I need to renew my permit, only to be told I have to return on Thursday, after ‘the boss’ has had time to check my file (so what have they been doing?!). Was also sheepishly informed by my colleague that he won’t be here most of this week as he’s on and M&E training course; this is my last week of working with the organization, and I should be crossing every t and dotting every single I with him.

But what really set a bad tone for me this week – while also putting my whinging right into perspective – was finding out on Sunday evening that my host had been in a car crash. She, some colleagues – and her baby – were travelling to Livingstone. Seeing as she was being made to make the 8-hour journey, on a Sunday, she’d decided to treat the time there as a couple of much-needed stress-free days out of the office. Instead, they drove through a downpour for about half the journey until the car slipped off the side of the road and flipped over. I don’t know who I felt more sorry for, her in Livingstone with the baby, suffering from shock and fright, or her poor husband at home waiting and worrying until the next morning when he could travel down to join them. They’ve all been discharged from hospital with, apart from the shock, nothing more serious than cuts and bruises. The fatality rate for road accidents in Zambia is notorious, partly due to the driving in the cities and partly due to the terrible condition of the roads outside the cities, especially now that the rains are here. The fact that they escaped with nothing broken – or worse – really is a miracle.

Blog’s been a bit neglected recently, partly due to my travelling and partly because of incredibly bad internet connection in the office. Also no pics, due to more technical break down – my laptop has stopped talking to any external devices so I’ve no way of getting my photos off my camera. Disaster. All this, on top of the relentless struggle of getting from A to B whether through the gridlock that is Lusaka or over the bone-crunching out-of-town roads, is becoming wearing, if I’m honest.

Luckily the temperature has improved, as the rains finally arrived on Sunday night – and what rains! It was as if Lusaka had relocated to underneath the Victoria Falls, complete with thunder, lightning – and power cuts. Then, next day, back to intense sunshine and clear blue sky. It’s spectacular, but apparently we haven’t seen anything yet.

We've convened a crisis meeting of the Forum's members in order to draw up a planned response to the Government's National Development Plan - the Plan with no chapter on housing. Members also looked at the Position Statement I'd drafted the week before, which we're placing in the Times of Zambia - a government paper, so we altered the tone a little bit!

I spent the rest of the week visiting members to carry out the baseline survey. The week was sort of topped and tailed by highlights. At the beginning we visited two women's co-operatives in rural areas, teaching women skills like brick-making and land rights issues. The week ended, however, with a visit I'll never forget. If I said I enjoyed it that would be inappropriate - nobody could enjoy seeing the appalling circumstances some people live in. We visited two compounds, one in Lusaka and one 200 miles north in Kitwe, to conduct focus groups with the residents' committees. In Lusaka, about 2,000 people live in the compound in homes that range from breezeblock constructions to shacks that are collapsing around them. They draw water from shared taps located around the compound. Everywhere is dirt and dust. Some people, usually women, set up their own business, ranging from a single table with a few vegetables to brick-built grocery shops - and loads of hairdressers. I was taken to see the school, which was spotless and being repainted as I was there. A gang of schoolchildren, in their navy blue uniforms, were chatting and giggling on their way from school, just like a crowd of Cardiff schoolkids. Everywhere I went I was followed by a growing crowd of small children. At first they mutter 'muzungu' (white person) but when I wave at them I get dazzling smiles and waves back. And then when I attempt to greet them - 'muli shani' - they burst into laughter.

The residents' committees in both Lusaka and Kitwe are simply inspirational. They're politicised, aware, committed; they spoke in dialect but I continuously heard the words 'advocacy', 'sensitised' and 'empower'. They have the will, the intelligence and the inner resources to achieve what's needed to lift these communities out of abject poverty, if only the infrastructure we take for granted was put in place for them.

Some good news, after our crisis meeting my colleague secured a meeting at the Ministry of Finance the next morning, and a committment to revisit the Housing Chapter to try, with the NGO's help, to make fit for reinstatement in the National Plan. It's a start.

Just found out that next week I'm going to be part of the team (is 3 people a team?) carrying out a baseline survey on all ten of the Civic Forum's members as requested by the Forum's funder. I'd been told to earmark 2 days to help out with this; have just come from a meeting outlining 5 days, including Saturday, travelling all around Lusaka and outlying towns and villages. Bit of a surprise to me frankly but fantastic opportunity to meet more people - especially people who don't work for NGO's!