How time flies! We have come to the end of Delapré Digs, MOLA’s first social prescribing pilot project in partnership with Delapré Abbey Preservation Trust. 

Over six weeks, we have trowelled, recorded, and measured our one-metre test pit and found some amazing finds to share with you. We also collected promising evaluation data and feedback showing Archaeology’s positive impact on wellbeing.  

Volunteers recording a test pit
Recording our test pit with a GPS and section drawing

It was bittersweet filling in our test pit and covering it back up with the turf we set aside on our first session. We were sad to say goodbye to our wonderful participants, but we have had the best time digging, learning and laughter, with plenty of finds to boot! 

MOLA delivered this pilot project alongside Delapré Abbey Preservation Trust (DAPT) and Social Prescribing link workers from the Northamptonshire General Practice Alliance (GPA). You can read all about the project on our first blog here.  

What have we found?

By the end of the project, we had uncovered dozens of finds of different kinds.  

We recorded each one in its context where it was found. Each group of finds from a context is an assemblage that can tell us a story about what was happening at that place and time. Our one-metre pit certainly has a lot of stories to tell! 

Our finds included animal bones, pottery, floor tile, roof tile, oyster shells, glass, metal finds (nails), building stone, mortar and CBM (ceramic building material). 

There was a sense of anticipation and celebration for each find, and it was hard to leave the pit with another potential find just under the surface. 

We even had an intruder, of the mole variety, and while cleaning up its mess we discovered another find in its spoil heap! 

Our keen-eyed participants and on-hand Medieval Pottery and Lithics experts on hand meant we began unravelling the stories behind the finds the moment they were uncovered.  

Volunteer using a trowel to excavate the test pit
Trowelling in the test pit

The different kinds of animal bones, including cow and sheep, told us what animals were living there, as well as butchers’ cut marks which showed what the people living at Delapré Abbey were eating hundreds of years ago. Interestingly, we also found oyster shells, which were widely eaten as a source of affordable protein. 

One of our most exciting finds was a beautifully decorated medieval floor tile shows the richness of the Abbey during that time. Our Medieval Pottery expert Jenni McNulty found this matching tile in the British Museum archive, from Halesowen Abbey.  

Another beautiful find was some thin fragments of glass, and a lovely leaf-ended metal object. This metal object had a look-alike a stone’s throw away, still in place in an outbuilding. 

Do these finds tell the story of a dump for discarding bones, shells and building material? Or could there be a building still waiting to be uncovered…? 

As is often the case on an archaeological dig, we made an intriguing find on our last day. We ended the day cleaning up what appeared to be line of large stones and mortar. Could this be part of a wall or building?!  

A presenter standing in front of a powerpoint presentation

Digging was just the beginning

Delapré Digs gave local participants an opportunity to learn from experts and try their hand at a range of archaeological activities, as well as creative endeavors, whilst meeting new people and improving their wellbeing. 

We had interesting and engaging talks about Archaeology, Lithics, Pottery, and Zooarchaeology. Participants enjoyed speaking with experts and learning more about the finds. 

Our finds were carefully washed and labelled by our participants. Finds washing was a well-loved activity of the project. Do not let the washing up bowl deceive you, finds washing is much more mindful and meditative! 

Participants put down the trowel and finds bags and picked up the paintbrush and the clay during our creative activities. We used clay to make pottery, tiles and sculptures. 

Visitors look into the test pit

Delapré Abbey’s monthly family day

MOLA staff took part in Delapré Abbey’s monthly family day, showing finds from Northamptonshire, past finds from Delapré and the finds from our test pit. It was great to meet visitors of all ages who came to take a closer look at the finds and have a chat about Archaeology and the Delapré Digs project. 

screenshot of bbc news article

“Suddenly, Monday’s had a purpose” 

Our evaluation data and feedback shows the project has had a positive impact on participant wellbeing. Here is some feedback from our participants themselves and you can read more in this BBC article

“As a result of joining in, I’ve made new friends and also people that I’ve seen walking around here before, being on my own, I now feel able to talk to them.” 

 “So it has a double edge for me, I’m learning about the past, but the future and the present day is me interacting with more people” 

 “The greatest excitement for me was finding the patterned tile…It’s been so fantastic to actually feel them and just think that all those years ago, somebody had crafted those tiles and what have you and you almost felt part of it, it was fantastic. It’s very therapeutic, just letting the earth fall through your fingers.” 

Delia - Delapré Digs Participant 


 “Going to do the Archaeology is looking after my own mental health and my own wellbeing, getting out as obviously being a carer you can get quite isolated sometimes.” 

 “This is something…that I can actually do myself, I can have some time to meet other people  and it’s a great way of promoting Delapré, because its been on everybody’s doorsteps since 1145.” 

 “Struck up a good friendship so that’s a good thing for all of us.” 

 “It’s good fun and you get your hands dirty.” 

  “It is good to get out.” 

  “Good for anybody’s welfare, not just people who are struggling." 

  Steve - Delapré Digs Participant 

The test pit ready to be filled in

What’s next for Delapré Digs? 

All of our finds, photographs and drawings will be compiled into an Archaeological report. We will compile our evaluation data and feedback to see in which ways the project impacted the well-being of our participants. 

For Delapré Digs, the project has ended and the grass has grown back over our test pit. On December 3rd and 4th, Delapré Abbey’s annual Christmas Fair took place on top of it! 

We hope that we will return to Delapré Abbey and its amazing archaeology to help improve the wellbeing of more of Northampton’s residents. Now we know the power of engaging with archaeology at Delapré, this is just the start for us so watch this space!  

Delapré Abbey has a Wellbeing hub with events including Health Walks, Walk and Talks, This Grief Thing and Menopause Cafe. You can find out more at: 


The participants waving goodbye

A big thank you 

We want to wish a big thank you to our wonderful participants who have brought life, laughter and a unique and valued contribution and involvement each week. It has been an absolute pleasure to work on this project, and I know my colleagues and I will miss our Mondays at Delapré with the 12 participants. 

Delapre Digs brought us all together to share stories, skills and company. It was lovely to see participants sharing stories, maps and local knowledge, as well as talents and perspectives. 

This project was made possible thanks to MOLA staff Katrina Gargett, Community Partnerships Manager at MOLA,  Claire Finn, MOLA Northampton’s Head of Research and Engagement and Mark Holmes, Head of Research and Engagement Northampton.  

We would love to thank Delapré Abbey Preservation Trust and Eleanor Sier, Head of Engagement and Interpretation of Delapré Abbey for their partnership. Thank you to the social prescribing Link Workers with Northamptonshire General Practice Alliance (GPA). This project was funded by MOLA’s Impact Acceleration Account grants with the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).