Teens giving up iPods to make our history less of a mystery

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GIVING up iPods, mobile phones, Xboxes and even television would be most teenagers’ idea of hell.

That, however, is exactly what dozens of youngsters aged 13 to 19 will be doing all next week.

What’s more, it’s not even some fiendishly cruel punishment devised by south east Northumberland’s strictest parents.

All 50 teenagers abandoning their hi-tech gadgets and gizmos are doing so voluntarily and without coercion, so they can get a better idea of how life was lived more than 170 years ago.

The youngsters – from Morpeth, Ashington, Cramlington, Seaton Delaval, Choppington, Ponteland, Seaton Sluice and Shilbottle – are taking part in a history-orientated version of the reality TV show Big Brother.

The housemates will trade in their trainers and jeans for old-fashioned attire and take up residence at Featherstone Castle, near Haltwhistle, for five days, beginning on Monday.

The 1840s Heritage Big Brother project, as it’s known, was thought up by the teenagers taking part after being struck by inspiration, and a yearning to find out more about the north east’s past, while delving into the archive at Ashington’s Woodhorn Museum.

Planning for the project, believed to be the first to be undertaken on such a scale in the UK, began 18 months ago and has seen ten young people research and develop a programme of events for the forthcoming trip back in time.

“The Heritage Big Brother project will offer north east teenagers the opportunity to experience life like their great-great-great grandparents,” said Robert Naylor, 15, a member of the project team.

“It should be a culture shock, but we believe they will relish the challenge.

“It is important that north east teenagers should not forget where they come from, as in some cases young people can feel uninterested in their heritage.

“This project will also be a valuable chance to put across our way of thinking.”

The housemates will live an 1840s-like lifestyle, trying out the food, music, arts, crafts, sport, fashions, map-reading, make up and hairstyles of that distant era.

They will also work with historians to find out what it was like to live in 1840.

All the housemates had to apply for the chance to take part and impress a judging panel.

Each of those chosen will be there next week because the judges believe they have something to contribute to the household.

As in the Channel 4 TV series, there will be strict house rules and tasks designed to put those involved to the test. No one will get voted out of the castle, but there will be prizes and forfeits.

The Heritage Big Brother house will even have its own diary room, in which housemates can record their thoughts to camera.

Museum director Keith Merrin said: “Not many young people can boast that they’ve lived in a castle for a week.

“This innovative project will be a positive experience combining learning with having a great time.

“Woodhorn encourages young people to be inspired by history – as we look to deliver what can be ultimately seen as a life-changing opportunity.

“The heritage project also cleverly enables young people to imaginatively research the archives held at Woodhorn, which are such a fantastic resource of stories and are often undervalued.”

The week is being documented by those involved with help from movie-maker Hugh Kelly and Whitley Bay film company Act 2 Cam.

The documentary footage they produce will be added to the very archives that inspired the project as a lasting reminder of the youngsters’ experiences.

Heritage Big Brother, an NEGeneration initiative, is part of Woodhorn’s Time Travel Northumberland project. It is being funded by Legacy Trust UK, a charity set up to help ensure next year’s London Olympic Games leave a cultural legacy.