A five year project finally finished!!

Way back in the pre-2020’s, we had a germ of an idea to introduce ‘Interpretation Boards’ into our beautiful Jesmond Old Cemetery. Why, I hear you ask? Well, why not, is the obvious but flippant answer…however, the real answer to the question is that on our numerous visits to other Cemeteries throughout the U.K., it became clear that the overall quality of the visitor experience was enhanced by the addition and inclusion of those informative little founts of additional knowledge and information that we now know to be called ‘interpretation boards’. So, having witnessed firsthand (or eye) the positive impact of these artistic, inspirational and information giving signs, we decided to have them installed throughout JOC – but where to start?

Money, as ever, was our first thought. Or, rather lack of it. So, we set about raising some money to help fund our project, but not before having first of all carried out a little research to find out what our financial target might be; a quick google search revealed three companies who we thought looked good in terms of their ‘on-line’ presence. Having given a very brief outline of what we had in mind to each company, we received three quite different quotes in terms of price, ranging from the low single £1,000’s to five figure £1,000’s. Anyway, the received quotes only served to illustrate how much money we needed to raise (quite a lot) and that we had a lot of work to do in order to meet our intended target. So, we adopted a dual approach to raising money, involving a ‘walk and talk’ strategy i.e. tours of JOC and presentations to community groups, and also engaging with local individuals and companies who might be able to offer us some financial support. Funnily enough, this ‘dual approach’ resulted in an almost 50:50 split in terms of the monies raised, with half of the eventual total of £10,500 being raised by our walks and talks and the other half being kindly donated by the Chapman family, the Fenwick family, Muckle LLB and Newcastle City Council. The keen eyed reader will be able to spot our sincere acknowledgement of their kind contributions on our Welcome Board.

Grateful acknowledgements to our supporters

The fund raising activity was, perhaps, the main factor in our project taking up five years of our lives but, additionally, the actual decision-making process took up an inordinate amount of time as ideas, counter-ideas, themes, counter-themes, drafting, redrafting, having debates (arguments), gaining consensus (twisting elbows), spell-checking, grammar checking, fact checking etc. etc. were all endured…. I mean enjoyed!! Anyway, the point being that the pathway from idea to end product is, necessarily, time consuming if you want to get it right – and we think we got it right.

However, we did not do all of this on our own….. in the initial stages, we had invaluable help and advice from both Chris Mearns from Historic England, and Simon Parkin, from Newcastle City Council. Once we had a better grasp of what was required, we contacted our preferred ‘provider,’ Border Signs and Graphics, who are based in Dumfries, and they collaborated very closely with us, particularly one of their staff, Rachel, who is BSG’s Graphic Designer. An interesting ‘design’ experience subsequently developed, due mainly to the bulk of the creative work being conducted ‘on-line’ and via e-mail – this was a new and novel approach for an owld fella like me, who is used to live ‘face-to-face’ interaction but, I have to say, it worked perfectly. So, we sent Rachel rough sketches, doodles and vague notions of what we were after in terms of an overarching theme and, over time, she was able to translate our broad brushstrokes into absolute works of art.

Idea One – photo of chosen monuments with links to QR codes

Idea Two – outline drawing of chosen monuments with links to QR codes

Final version – a blending of the two ideas, plus brief pen-portraits and a ‘did you know’ fact

As well as the artwork, we really wanted to have a connection with our website content, hence the use of QR codes, where a one-step scan via a smart phone takes the interested visitor to a detailed biography of their chosen individual from the interpretation board. Technology at its best, for sure. Which brings me on to another aspect of the design process…..how do you choose which individuals, of the over 22,000 who are buried in Jesmond Old Cemetery, to be included on our interpretation boards? Cue a range of polls, questionnaires and gender considerations (how to get a balance when there are so many more male than female monuments and inscriptions – quite an insult to modern day attitudes, really), followed by agreeing on the geographical location of the boards within JOC, trying to ensure that chosen monuments were relatively close together and that the interpretation boards were appropriately spaced throughout JOC. So, again, an indication of what a difficult job we had in trying to accommodate a range of variables. Thankfully, we had our ‘Welcome Board’ list of names to help make sure that any ‘non-inclusions’ on the interpretation boards were still found a place of prominence.

The ‘Robb Group’ interpretation board, featuring Joe Wilson, Muriel Robb, Richard Cail, Abel Henry Chapman and Robert Amos

Did I just mention the Welcome Board??? How could I forget that beauty…..again, another collaborative work of art, where we provided the outline of a map and Rachel produced the detailed version, complete with geographically accurate placement of trees. Our Welcome Board has pride of place, adjacent to the South Lodge, near the Sandyford Road entrance to JOC.

Our first draft map of Jesmond Old Cemetery

Our second draft map of JOC, complete with trees, before being transformed to its final version, below

  Our Welcome Board

So, that is a quick overview of our Interpretation Board project…. what a journey it has been for us – a true labour of love. Hopefully, you will find our five years of effort has been worthwhile and that on your visits to JOC, you will experience the same positive impact of these artistic, inspirational and information giving signs that we did all those years ago.