Pokemon Go and Ashford’s Heritage

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King’s Wood

Pokemon Go.  Every parent knows those words and has the app.  It has become a global phenomenon since its release 6 weeks’ ago when 20 million players worldwide tried to access the game in the first hour.  Suddenly, my kids want to come to the shops with me (really!), or walk the (oft-blog-mentioned) dog …

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Not a Pokemon   …….  and not so easily caught, either

… in new and different places.  They don’t even mind having their hair cut, now that they know there are a couple of Pokemon within the Ashford salon I previously have had to drag them to every six weeks.

But, get this.  They even talk to me.  Where’s the St John’s Lane Mural?  Where’s the Gothic Revival House?  The Ashford Gargoyles?

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Ashford Gargoyles Pokemon stop, blogged about here

Mum!  Where’s the Clergy’s House?  The Northern Wall?  Where’s the Old Grammar School?  Where’s the Tank?  (‘How can you miss the Tank?’, I ask them …).

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Ashford Town’s Tank,  complete with Pokemon Rattata

Those are various Poke Stops in and around the centre of Ashford.  But Pokemon characters also appear randomly and my boys like taking screenshots of them against the old buildings in the middle of Ashford town.  They enjoy the contrast of historic and uber modern.  It links their present world to the past, in the best way heritage can: by involving them with it.

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This Pokemon was caught just in front of the meathook of the medieval butchers, blogged about in Market buildings, Middle Row.  It is attached to the top black beam and impossible to photograph properly with a phone!

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Much has been written (for example, here and here) about how Pokemon hunting encourages children (and adults) out of doors, interacting with people in their local shopping centres, streets, parks and woods.  Pokemon is ageless, classless.  For those reasons alone, I love it.  But, it is also timeless.  Heritage is all about continuing the narrative of old, perhaps disused, or differently-used, buildings, monuments, places in your environment.  Pokemon Go not only gets individuals and groups out into the fresh air, benefiting from some exercise, but it also makes them look around.  They read maps; they look for Pokestops, paying attention to the description of a place or the physical appearance of a building.  It makes everyone more aware of their surroundings, their heritage.

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Pokemon Rattata in front of Hopewell House
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Pokemon Rattata by the pargetted frontage of the Market buildings, Middle Row

Two lovely, local examples illustrate what I mean.  My son and his friend were out yesterday, seeking Pokemon in the centre of Ashford.  An elderly couple went up to them in St Mary’s Churchyard and interrogated: “What are you doing?!  Are you two Pokemon hunting?”, to which the boys nodded, for once silent.  “So are we!” the elderly couple exclaimed, excitedly waving their smartphone at them.  “There’s one round here somewhere!”  Young and old are interacting, sharing and having fun.  It is hard to imagine there ever having been a conversation between those four people, in the middle of a busy shopping area, before the advent of Pokemon Go.

Then, today, when my sons had finished having their hair cut and we were looking for the Clergy’s House, opposite St Mary’s Churchyard, a tired, harrassed father swept his exhausted daughter onto his shoulders and said “Come on, Lottie!  Let’s find the Old Grammar School. It’s a Poke Stop and they’ve got some lovely train stuff in there.  You like trains!” and she merrily went along with him.

* Thank you to Caspar, Christian, Ursula and Clara, and definitely Ethan, for the hard-earned research that went into this blogpost.


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