2014 sees the start of the First World War Centenary, which will be marked across the globe over the next 4 years with the museum and heritage sector leading the commemorations. The Centenary Partnership has been set up by the Imperial War Museum Group as a networking facility for cultural organisations wishing to take part in the occasion.

Membership to the partnership http://http://www.1914.org/partners/ gives an organisation access to a number of resources to use in preparing their own tributes to the centenary, and opportunities to participate in national and international programmes. The partnership intends to highlight three main periods of remembrance, beginning in 2014 by observing the start of the First World War. In 2016 the focus will shift to remembering the battle of the Somme, ending in 2018 by considering the legacy of the war.  Throughout this time a number of digital applications will be launched that allow members of the public to actively take part in World War One research and engage with the themes of the commemorations more broadly.

Looking to the North West a number of organisations have big plans for their involvement with the Centenary. This year IWM North opens a yearlong exhibition called ‘From Street to Trench: A War that Shaped a Region’. The show will observe how the First World War affected North West communities, from recruitment and conscription to life at home and the impact on local people since the war ended. Whilst the themes explored here are being covered by the national programmes, the scope is decidedly local and relevant to the regional audience. This is an approach shared by the majority of projects in the North West. Both the Museum of Liverpool and Stockport Heritage Services will take a personal approach, looking at the specific stories and experiences of local people during the war, whilst Bolton Museum will focus on the 1916 zeppelin raid of the town for their exhibition.

The Cumbria Museum Consortium is planning a large scale project that will involve the whole region. A touring exhibition exploring the lives of local people during World War One will be accompanied by a learning package, an arts award pilot and a number of open days that Cumbrian museums and schools can get involved with. The project will also be using social media platforms such as twitter and a Cumbrian World War One blog, both to promote their events and as a medium for institutions to connect with each other. The use of a social media as a means of collaboration is recommended by the Partnership, who want the Centenary’s online presence to unite the North West’s institutions. 

 Dunham Massey in Cheshire is the figure head of the National Trust’s First World War commemoration programme. Using information gathered from archive and original collections, the team have recreated the Stamford Hospital, a project which involved moving the contents of four of the grandest Edwardian rooms in the hall.  The project will use the experiences of the soldiers, nurses and family who lived in the house during this time to give a personal insight into life during World War One.

The outcome of observing the experience of war on such a local level will hopefully be the increased engagement of communities, both in terms of their regional history and awareness of the cultural and heritage organisations that serve them. One of the aims of the Partnership is to encourage public participation across the network. Organisations should encourage visitors to seek out more information on the centenary by attending other exhibitions or events, and a collective approach to the commemorations is the most effective way of achieving this. A major issue that has been raised amongst museums in the North West is the lack of artefacts for exhibition. Whilst many organisations have strong textual or aural resources they are finding it difficult to secure objects to support their narratives. As a result museums will need to focus on collaborating with similar institutions to ensure that the region is well represented in the Centenary programme. The role of the Partnership, in facilitating these relationships, will therefore be of great benefit over the next four years.