Producing the Goods 3

Locally Distinctive Souvenirs : Casebooks


The desire to take home a memory of a place runs deep. For how long have humans picked up a particular pebble or object and carried it on with them prompting stories and emotions?

Souvenirs are mementos of places, something you take home from a visit to evoke memories or to show you were really there. Souvenirs should be unique to place yet more often than not it is impossible to find anything that is locally distinctive, let alone well designed, made in and as part of the culture of the place. Rather than being dismissed as inconsequential and one of the tattier aspects of consumerism, souvenirs could be about local identity and a more meaningful side of tourism, but we have let ourselves down - our souvenirs are selling us short.

Go to the Museum of London or any gift shop and you will find small red metal and plastic models of telephone boxes, double-decker buses, letter-boxes – all made in China. This experience is replicated, with different icons (or even the same ones), in other cities and villages. But environmental imperatives (souvenir miles/resource use), and the creeping homogenisation or ‘cultural robbery’ that is bleaching the meaning from places, have made us think that the time is ripe to re-evaluate the role, function and the power of the souvenir.

At their best, souvenirs positively reflect our places and our culture. Existing examples include Whitby jet, Powder Mills pottery of Dartmoor, Carshalton Lavender oil, willow baskets from the Somerset Levels, seasonal and place-based foods such as breads (saffron), cheeses (Charles Martell’s Single Gloucester), and beers (Southdown Harvest Ale by Harveys of Lewes). These are real, valuable selling points for a village, town or city. They are of economic benefit to local designers, makers, manufacturers and come from sources that feedback into the culture and local ecology, instead of leaving a trail of destruction in far away places.

Our new project will focus on locally distinctive souvenirs and add new ideas and examples to mementos made locally from materials of the place which speak of identity and subtly of sustainability. Souvenirs, like small Trojan horses, taken in, making their way and their arguments on someone else’s home ground could achieve much by example to popularise great aspirations.

In June 2007 Common Ground launched a campaign to create a new climate of expectation for souvenirs. We will be challenging tourism chiefs to facilitate the production and sale of authentic artefacts and edible goods, and designers, colleges and producers to make imaginative, place-inspired artefacts of which we can be proud. We shall work with the Crafts Council, Regional Arts Councils, educational, cultural, heritage and tourism agencies as well as the media to reach new audiences.

Common Ground’s campaign
for locally distinctive and sustainable souvenirs


To create a new climate of expectation from souvenirs through education, media awareness.
To show what is achievable by using examples of best practice.
To challenge makers/designers to produce ‘good’ souvenirs.
To challenge tourism chiefs from town to region to facilitate the sale of ‘good’ souvenirs.
To provide information to art/design colleges and to get feedback from them.
To raise the questions of local distinctiveness and sustainability through allegory.
Ultimately to change practice to give feedback into locality.

We shall be looking for examples of souvenirs past, present and future that are:

locally distinctive;
exhibiting authenticity of object, use or place;
of good design and quality;
made nearby;
made from local renewable materials;
demonstrating sustainable production;
ethically derived, fairly traded and offering fair value.

Producing The Goods 3 (souvenirs) is available as a 24 page illustrated pamphlet. Individual A5 printed copies are available for £1.50 plus postage from our MARKET PLACE (discounts are available for orders of 50 or more; contact info [at] commonground . org . uk, for details & prices, +44(0)1747 850820).

See our casebook examples ....

Souvenirs with Meaning
Edible Souvenirs

Producing the Goods 4 : Festivals, Food, Culture and Place