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Mudlarking Exhibition: An era gone by on the River Wear

Mudlarking Digital Exhibition: An era gone by on the River Wear

Throughout 2021, Broadside Creatives CIC has overseen a series of community led walks along the banks of the River Wear in Sunderland. Funded by The Heritage Fund and developed in partnership with More Than Grandparents CIO, Art Matters Now and Sunderland Maritime Heritage, this project worked with multigenerational groups to promote the wellbeing effects of natural heritage and to inspire future generations to be interested in our local heritage and stories of the River Wear. Inspired by the recent findings of Roman ruins in the North East of England, Broadside Creatives CIC set out to uncover the heritage and culture of Sunderland through exploring eras gone by on the banks of the River Wear.


Featured in the exhibition and presented digitally are the objects found over the course of the programme by participants and artistic interpretations of such findings have been created by the young participants from More than Grandparents CIO.


The objects on show, range from nails and rivets from the river’s ship building past, to pottery dating between the 1970’s – 1990’s, plastic bottles, glass, cans and other discarded objects such as a garden gnome which has been identified as one of the dwarfs from Snow White highlighting how impacted the river is by waste and pollutant debris from living history and how long said objects can take to degrade.


Promoting wellbeing was at the core of this project, and to achieve increased levels of wellbeing amongst participants, outdoor activity and socialisation was a fundamental facet of the project. Participants engaged with their natural surroundings on the banks of the River Wear and partook in multiple walks to fully immerse themselves with the culture and heritage on offer, as well as developing an understanding of local history.


This project also paid homage to the natural heritage of the banks of the River Wear and examined the many different flora and fauna found in the area. Prior to this project commencing, research was conducted to ensure the chosen site for this project was suitable and environmentally appropriate, in order to avoid choosing an area with fragile and environmentally endangered flora. The area chosen on the River Wear also considered factors such as tide times, which were unique to the Wear and enabled participants to fully engage with the project during periods of low tide.


Sustainability and making environmentally friendly decisions are a priority for governments and citizens across the world to ensure our planet and all its inhabitants can continue not only to survive but to thrive in healthy and prosperous communities. The project highlighted the damaging impact dumping waste can cause to the natural environment, with many items found on the banks of the River Wear being suitable for recycling. As a result, Broadside Creatives CIC thought it prudent to ensure a proportion of each mudlarking session be dedicated to litter picking and cleaning the shorelines of the river. A combination of both new and old items which were found during the project, emphasised the real dangers and challenges we face in protecting ecosystems and the environment.

The heritage and history of Sunderland was promoted through the items found on the banks of the Wear, with items being displayed during a symposium for participants and the public to attend. Attendees of the symposium included a local music historian and a representative for Sunderland Maritime Heritage, who gave a detailed history and evolution of the River Wear and how its commercial and industrial purpose has changed throughout time. Sunderland Maritime Heritage also provided the project with their interpretation of the items found, the cultural and historical ties the items found have to the city and this project, with said interpretations being included throughout the digital exhibition.


Throughout the project, Broadside Creatives CIC worked with 45 individual people during mudlarking activities, with many of those people attending multiple excursions along the banks of the River Wear to explore, engage and absorb the local culture, history and heritage on offer. 94% of responders said they had experienced an improvement in wellbeing and felt their mental health had taken a positive turn during activities. On analysis of the feedback provided, it was evident that many people were suffering from the effects of being locked down as a result of Covid-19 and were elated to be involved in local community programmes taking place in Sunderland. Participants championed the fact that Broadside Creatives CIC had highlighted a beautiful part of Sunderland’s natural heritage, situated on the local community’s doorstep, as well as encouraging people to explore new areas on the banks of the River Wear for people to visit.

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