Taking part in excavations at Shrewsbury Castle enabled a heritage enthusiast to achieve her dream career.
Elizabeth Painter, 29, from Shrewsbury, had always hoped to work in the museums and heritage sector and found studying for a BA (Hons) in History followed by a Master’s in Museum Practice was the perfect springboard to realise her goals. She is now employed as the Heritage and Tours Manager of Shrewsbury Prison and Museum.
The opportunity to take part in three archaeological excavation projects at Shrewsbury Castle gave Elizabeth the chance to learn new skills, including ‘taking-over’ the University’s Instagram page to share updates of the work she and her fellow students were taking part in.
She said: “I took part in all three seasons of archaeological excavations at Shrewsbury Castle and took over the University of Chester’s Instagram page for a day, creating content for a feed post along with multiple stories and reels to run throughout the day. I was entrusted to supervise fellow students during the final season at the Castle due to my experience. I was also part of the team that created the interpretation boards for the open days in the first season and acted as the archive liaison, securing images and information for the site investigation.
“I loved taking part in these digs as there is nothing quite like being in a hole in the ground uncovering information that has been lost for centuries.”
With a dissertation focusing on the negative impact the COVID-19 pandemic had on how young people engaged with heritage, Elizabeth was able to put her research to good use.
She said: “I found that museums were in a prime position to facilitate young people’s learning in an informal educational setting using constructivist learning methods. I have since used this research to inform the development of a new educational programme which has been implemented across both Shrewsbury Prison, which I lead on and at Shepton Mallet Prison, which has been extremely successful since its implementation in February 2023.”
Elizabeth said studying at UCS was ideal as it was close to where she lived and offered a range of interesting modules. She said: “I found the programme attractive, intriguing and I believed it would put me in the best position for career progression in the future.
“While studying at the University I have made lifelong friends, had the opportunity to put knowledge and theory into practice with the Shrewsbury Castle digs and have made valuable contacts within the heritage industry through the course.
“Gaining this qualification has enabled me to do what I’ve dreamed of doing. I have consulted on TV programmes and historical documentaries and I have been featured in TV series in my role. I have implemented a successful educational programme and updated the museum and exhibition space giving it adequate interpretation. I am now the Head of the Heritage and Tours department as Shrewsbury Prison and in charge of the collection and interpretation at the site.”
Dr Morn Capper, who lectures on Museums and Archaeological Heritage atUniversity Centre Shrewsbury and University of Chester, said: “As a mature student, Elizabeth’s passion for understanding the past was always clear and as MSc programme leader I was able to support her in developing research and museum skills to match, encouraging her to build her own professional networks and confidence.
“By combining a practical Master’s and dissertation research with citizen-student heritage volunteering at Shrewsbury Castle, Elizabeth was able to enhance her experiences and leadership. This dedication was rewarded by her post at the Shrewsbury Prison Museum, where she engages young people – an under-represented audience – with local heritage. She is one of my many students who complete their Master’s while working.
“I am hugely proud of Elizabeth and the group of more than 30 heritage volunteers whose enthusiasm and professionalism has enabled thousands of public visitors to discover Shrewsbury Castle with us. Some students had never excavated, others had archaeology or museum experience but had never produced events or exhibitions. Each research project is obviously different, but I am keen to support student heritage volunteers like Elizabeth as the benefits for students in communicating live heritage projects, and for myself in sharing research and professional practice with them grows each year.”