Georgian vision of a bright millennium

19th May 2000 at 01:00
Some of the S2 pupils of Lornshill Academy in Alloa, Clackmannanshire, were expecting New Lanark's millennium ride to be a stomach-churning roller-coaster. In fact, progress through the high-tech ride is sedate: the highs and lows are emotional rather than physical.

For 10 years, visitors to Robert Owen's model manufacturing village have visited the Annie McLeod Experience, an insight into the world of a 12-year-old mill girl in 1820. The ride was state-of-the-art when it was created, but a decade on it was time for an update. "People see 'millennium' and think of the Dome," says deputy director Lorna Davidson, "but in fact we're not jumping on the bandwagon. We have very good reasons to use the millennium as the basis of the ride."

On New Year's Day 1816, Owen made a speech at the opening of his Institute for the Formation of Character and looked forward 200 years to a better society. "What ideas individuals may attach to the term 'Millennium' I know not; but I know that society may exist without crime, without poverty, with health greatly improved, with little, if any misery, and with intelligence and happiness increased a hundredfold," he said.

Inspired by the power of the vision, New Lanark has created a ride which looks both forward and back in time, placing our society in a wide historical and cultural context and showing how the thoughts and actions of even one individual can have significant effects.

Our guide on this journey is Harmony, a 12-year-old girl who has travelled back in time from 2200 to find out about New Lanark. In her chatty way, se bounces from Owen's advanced ideas on education and society to the continued existence of child labour and social deprivation today and on to the marvels of her schoolroom of the future.

There is a strong conservation message here too, with the astute image of Harmony and her friends enjoying a walk through the ancient woodland of the Millennium Forest. "Thanks for planting them," she says. "It was such a great idea to create a forest for future generations."

The Lornshill pupils were impressed with the special effects, and felt the ride brought to life issues they had been discussing in class. "It will make people think," said Craig Miller. "The way you see all the problems and then the world leaders who tried to change things. It will make people think about making the world a better place."

Their history teacher, Rosie Shannon, felt it worked well alongside the "excellent" guided tour of New Lanark itself, which the class had also enjoyed. She was pleased with the way it fitted in with the classwork they had been doing, comparing the lives of 19th century New Lanark children - the food they ate, the way they spent their time - with the lives of today's 12-year-olds.

Owen's Utopian vision of millennium society comes as a salutory lesson to us.

New Lanark, New Lanark Mills, Lanark ML11 9DB Tel 01555 661345.

email Education officer Carolyn Blackburn Open all year. Guided visits for groups should be booked in advance: pound;2.25 per pupil; teachers free 1:10 pupils. Various education packs available.

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