09:30 22 January 2022
Beneath a bustling city street, a club gathers in an untouched crypt – brewing potions and unearthing relics of yesteryear.
This is the Community Culture Club, piloted in November 2021 by the Norwich Museum and Age UK with the aim of helping people with dementia learn more about the Fine City.
The group not only explores the basements that stretch beneath the city, but participates in activities such as “potion-making”.
Hannah Henderson, curator of community history at the museum, said: “We have worked very hard within the community over the past 15 years.
“One of our main audiences that we wanted to work with was older people and we were very lucky to be able to help people in nursing homes or day centres.”
The club, held every Thursday, was funded through the Heritage Lottery fund education program for around £2,000 and is seen as a natural progression from their previous work.
As people are led underground into the depths of the museum, club activities include examining relics of days gone by, crafts that can be made like “potions” with lemon, ginger and hot water, celebrating medieval Norwich.
Hannah added, “We wanted to bring people together, bring their passion and creativity.
“Over time we have seen the club and the general commitment of everyone involved make a real difference for those involved.
“It just shows how a massive investment project like Royal Palace Reborn can have a ripple effect on the grassroots community.
“Everyone will see the work done at the castle but it’s a human story behind the project.”
Community Culture Club is overseen by Rosalind Hewett, Manager of Adult Learning and Engagement at the Norwich Museum.
She said: “We follow the well-being of each participant and are delighted to see that it has increased considerably since the establishment of the club.
“People who attend have told us they sleep better, have made friends, feel much better and have something to look forward to during the week.”
Rosalind continued, “It’s a privilege to be able to work with these people in this museum.”
What exactly is a basement?
A basement is traditionally a cellar or storage room, often brick-lined and vaulted, and used for storage in buildings since medieval times.
Norwich has a multitude of basements dating back to the medieval period.
Indeed, the city had a booming merchant class (especially in the wool and cloth trade).
Merchants traded from their domestic dwellings and lived above their stock, so their homes were built with spaces to store and demonstrate or display their wares.
Basements were practical but, more importantly, provided a secure storage area for goods.
The basement wasn’t dark and dull like a damp cellar.
It would have had light, air and noise at street level, with the one in Norwich built for a wealthy merchant.
That in the Norwich Museum is made up of strongly constructed double-order diagonals and transverse ribs supported by wall arches, which means that the ceiling and structure are decorative and not purely functional.