Rochdale is a town of low arts and heritage engagement – there is feeling that any arts or heritage projects of significance will always happen 12 miles up the road in nearby Manchester. However, the visit made by the Natural History Museum’s iconic Diplodocus cast – the only place Dippy would stop in the North West – provided the opportunity to do something big that would put Rochdale on the map and boost civic pride in the borough. Dippy would bring in unprecedented numbers of visitors with an accompanying economic boon. It would also be a chance for communities in this ethnically diverse borough to come together and create.
In preparation for Dippy’s arrival one of the shared activities involved schools and community groups learning to knit and make bees – one of the themes of the accompanying exhibition is climate education. These were used to make a large installation in Touchstones Museum & Gallery which housed the Dippy Exhibition. The project team asked for 500 bees. They received over 2000 bees handmade by members of the public across the whole range of Rochdale’s diversity.
Dippy on Tour had never been staged across two venues before it reached Rochdale, where Dippy the Dinosaur was housed in the council’s multi-use public office building, while the accompanying main exhibition was staged at Link4Life’s Touchstones Museum and Gallery – a 5-minute walk away across the town centre. For visitors unfamiliar with Rochdale town centre a phone-friendly interactive ‘Dippy Trail Map’ was produced which signposted the way and highlighted local sights of interest. The digital map encouraged them to visit and learn about other arts and heritage sites such as Rochdale’s Sculpture of Unity in the Memorial Garden and the statute of famous Rochdale-born singer Gracie Fields by the historic Town Hall.
The project has been a source of pride and celebration for the borough. Spontaneous Dippy related acts have occurred in the community. For example, local folk music community group Oakenhoof took to the streets of Rochdale in Dippy themed costumes to solicit donations for foodbanks.
The exhibition has increased arts in engagement. And not just among visitors. In addition to the volunteer team, around 100 Rochdale Council and Link4Life staff volunteered their own time to help staff the exhibition. For many of both these groups this was their first time being directly involved in arts and heritage.
Rochdale Council and Link4Life staff formed a joint team to develop and execute the exhibition and the community activity plan. Nothing of this magnitude in terms of arts and heritage had been staged before in Rochdale but the success of the teamwork and the project has created a belief that Rochdale can – and crucially should – stage arts and heritage projects of this size in the future.
Bringing Dippy to Rochdale required an ambitious and focused collaboration between organisations; the project is rightly a source of great pride. Dippy both celebrates the local area, involving diverse groups and individuals in the project, and also educates about science and climate change."
A fantastic collaborative project generating impressive local engagement. The team dealt well with the challenges posed by a national lockdown. I hope that Rochdale sees more arts projects in the future!"