Community Archives and Heritage Group (CAHG) Annual Conference 2015
Jenny Marsden, Barnaby Bryan and Georgina Orgill
Over 130 delegates attended the Community Archives and Heritage Group Annual conference, on Wednesday 15th July co-hosted by the Department of Information Studies at University College London
The conference keynote address was given by Michael Wood, Professor of Public History at the University of Manchester. Professor Wood gave the inside story on The Story of England, a major community heritage project filmed and broadcast on national television in 2012 telling the story of Kibworth, in the East Midlands throughout English History. Involving family stories, oral histories, archaeology, archival research, work in schools, and local groups (e.g. metal detectorists). Professor Wood showed how this diverse approach helped to build up a picture of the history of the place, and in particular allowed people to explore the pre-documentary history of the village. It was shown what a huge role the community of Kibworth played in successfully building up a rich and comprehensive picture of the village and the people who had lived there.
Prefab Museum and Archive
Elisabeth Blanchet and Jane Hearn introduced The Prefab Museum, based on the history of prefab homes built in the UK following the end of World War Two. As well as showing how the Prefab Museum and Archive related to social history, art, culture, architecture and education, the presentation highlighted some of the tensions that can arise when working with communities, particularly those in transition.
Threads of Time
Run by Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies and based on a community of interest, rather than a community of place, the Threads of Time project provided an interesting contrast to the preceding presentations. The project encouraged both amateur and professional textile artists to use the archive as a resource for artistic inspiration. An artist involved in the project, Jojo Taylor, shared her experience as a participant, showing delegates photographs of her archive-inspired artwork.
British Chinese Workforce Heritage Project
The afternoon session began with the British Chinese Workforce Heritage Project an ambitious three-year project undertaken by the British Chinese Heritage Centre. 150 volunteers were involved, filming, transcribing and translating ninety oral history interviews with members of the British Chinese working community, representing diverse ages, backgrounds and professions and documenting their contribution to British working life. Interviews covered a range of subjects, from work and family to national identity, race and the community’s future.
University of Hertfordshire Heritage Hub
Representatives from the University of Hertfordshire Heritage Hub spoke about their work to connect community groups and volunteers with university staff interested in heritage to work together on heritage projects. Acknowledging that on points of detail, volunteers are unsurpassed; they emphasised the role of the university in helping volunteers to contextualise their specialist knowledge and provide support for funding bids, highlighting the many non-financial assets which the university was able to share, such as building space and online access.
Artemis Theatre Company
Claire Summerskill, playwright and Artistic Director of the Artemis Theatre Company, introduced the conference to the concept of ‘Verbatim Theatre’ – performances in which the script is based entirely on the actual spoken word of oral history interviews conducted around a particular theme, the most recent example being LGBT asylum seekers. Summerskill highlighted the usefulness of theatre as a medium for making often marginalised voices heard in other places, and stressed the need to interrogate one’s own working practices and build sustained relationships with interview subjects.
Black Cultural Archives
Victoria Northridge, Collections Manager at the Black Cultural Archives started the final presentation of the day with a brief history of the BCA, and an overview of its collection, which includes oral testimony, ephemera and a range of original archival material. The presentation moved on to focus on the role of volunteers, covering their recruitment, inclusion and retainment. Melba Wilson, a volunteer at the BCA and activist for Black Women’s causes, presented a personal account of her volunteering experience. She noted how phenomenally welcomed and wanted the BCA was in the community, while stressing the importance of making people feel welcome as they enter the building and discussing her own positive experiences as a welcoming presence. Wilson pointed out that the skills learned as a volunteer can be very helpful in others areas of one’s life, pointing to her experiences conducting interviews and giving talks.
As in previous years the conference included the presentation of the Community Archive and Heritage Group Awards. The standard of nominations were very high making judging very difficult
The overall winner and winner of the innovation category was the Milford Street Bridge Project. This Project showed the benefits of collaboration between heritage professionals and artists, as well as the importance of local people being engaged in projects and having a sense of ownership.
Best new group was the Khizra Foundation, who won for their new project Everyday Muslim, a five-year project to create a central archive of Muslim lives, arts, education and cultures from across the UK. The judges were particularly impressed by the wide reach of the project.
The award for best website went to Ryde Social Heritage Group. The judges felt they had evolved to meet the needs of their community with an extremely comprehensive website that felt fresh and was updated regularly.
The inspiration category award went to Newlyn Archive. They had succeeded in bringing together two communities through sharing local material with children and their parents. This intergenerational link was deemed a simple but inspirational idea that could be exported to other archives.
Following the presentation of the awards, delegates were given an opportunity to hear about the winning projects in more detail.
Some thoughts from the delegates
Interesting, thought provoking and very useful
Privilege to hear about wide range of active community groups from different parts of England
I enjoyed it, it was very thought provoking and encouraging to celebrate other groups work
Download the full report for more information on the day.