Since June 2022, we've been evaluating the NLHF-funded Digital Dig project, which engages new audiences with the RHS through participatory video.

June 2, 2023
Photo of the author - Nicky Hatton

Nicky Hatton

"Tapping into history that you wouldn't think would be useful… I like to see how the area around me has changed. And how historically important that is in building what Reading is today."

- Digital Ambassador

Since June 2022, we’ve been working with the RHS to evaluate their NLHF-funded Digital Dig project. The project aims to uncover, map, and document the RHS’ extensive plant nursery collections with the help of virtual volunteers all over the world. The project also recruited 12 Digital Ambassadors, aged 16-25, to create digital content that would share the stories behind the collections with a wider audience.

Ambassadors received specialist training in media, filmmaking and animation and created 7 fantastic short films inspired by the collections. The films were launched publicly at celebration events in 2023.

As part of the evaluation, we asked the young ambassadors to tell us about the highlights of the project for them, what they would have changed about their experience, and what they think of the RHS now that their films have launched:

Stand-out moments

  • Working behind the scenes at a museum was a highlight for many of the ambassadors who joined the project as part of their role with the Museum of English Rural Life Youth Panel. Participants enjoyed seeing, and handling, ‘the stuff that the public don’t get to see’. They also appreciated the opportunity to learn how information and objects can be curated for public view ‘because that really changes how you perceive something’.
  • Visiting RHS Wisley was a real treat for others, some of whom were visiting an RHS garden for the first time. Ambassadors enjoyed chatting to staff about their roles, many of whom were younger than they expected, seeing how plant samples were handled, learning how specialist seed equipment worked, and exploring the extensive archives in the Wisley library.
  • Many participants told us that they had enjoyed the ‘hands-on’ filming workshops most of all. They valued using specialist equipment to create a high-quality film product and operating with a level of professionalism that felt new. Participants also told us that they felt empowered to make decisions and that their input was sought by the project facilitators.

Learnings and suggestions

  • Participants told us that they had developed a broad range of film-related skills including using a camera, learning about the components of the camera, and how they can be used to create a ‘clean product’. While the precision and patience required to create a stop motion animation felt challenging at times, many felt that completing this activity was all the more satisfying because of this painstaking work.
  • The skills in collaboration, communication and leadership that the ambassadors told us that they had developed were also highly valued, and many said that their confidence had increased as a result of taking part in Digital Dig.
  • There was appetite for more film workshops to produce more content and perfect their work. Some would have liked to have been more involved in the final editing process. Others told us that they had enjoyed the interactive activities most of all and would welcome more of this in the sessions. This feedback is shaping the final Digital Ambassadors project in Autumn 2023.

Changed perspectives

Some participants felt that the project had changed their perception of the RHS:

  • One had previously associated it with ‘middle aged people’, but this had changed after meeting members of staff of all ages at RHS Wisley.
  • Another said that they now thought of the RHS as a ‘real thing’ as opposed to a ‘faceless entity’ and taking part in the project helped to put a face to it.
  • One ambassador said that they now perceive the RHS as a ‘sustainable organisation’ (in terms of its environmental credentials), after visiting a site.
  • Another participant felt that their interest was piqued more by the film side of things than the plants, but that they were curious to learn more about the RHS as an organisation.

All in all, a real success - so much so that we're almost sad that the final Digital Ambassadors project will take place in Autumn 2023.

To learn more about opportunities to get involved with the RHS, visit RHS Community Outreach / RHS Gardening.