As coronavirus restrictions unfortunately made it impossible to hold the annual conference of the Community Archives and Heritage Group at University College London in July as planned, the format has this year been replaced by a series of online webinars. The first of these Zoom sessions, on ‘Heritage, Wellbeing and Belonging’, took place on Monday 26 October and incorporated the AGM and Community Archive of the Year awards. Chair Jane Golding reflected that 2020 had been a year of adapting to change but also of seeking new opportunities. In the coming year CAHG will focus on creating more value for more people.
‘Heritage, Wellbeing and Belonging’
These themes were reflected in the ‘Heritage, Wellbeing and Belonging’ panel, a co-presentation from Liz Ellis, Policy Project Manager at the National Lottery Heritage Fund (NLHF), with Laura Drysdale and Richard Johnson from mental health charity Restoration Trust.
Liz introduced the NLHF Strategic Funding Framework for 2019–24 and its focus on inclusion in heritage. Wellbeing is an important new outcome for the framework. Heritage has a unique role in building relationships and a sense of belonging. On the other hand, the NLHF acknowledges that heritage is not neutral and can be uncomfortable. Exploring different histories can help to foster social connections and conversations.
Laura, Director of the Restoration Trust, demonstrated how archives and heritage provide a rich resource for wellbeing in the NLHF-funded Change Minds project. Change Minds uses archival records of asylums in imaginative explorations of historical patient experience. Projects like Change Minds make use of the inclusive nature of archives; they also allow for digital inclusion and can be easily and sustainably scaled up. Recognising this, Laura asked why archives are so absent from conversations about health and wellbeing.
Richard spoke about his work as the research coordinator for ‘Dr Hills’ Casebook’, a community theatre project about life at the Norfolk County Asylum under medical superintendent Dr Hills. The project encouraged people who might not normally engage with archives to explore and tell stories that have often been ignored. For Richard this demonstrates why access to historical resources should never be restricted.
The panel inspired enthusiastic discussion on how the connection with archives is transformed in a digital context, how wellbeing outcomes for participants can be measured ethically, and how new projects can benefit from collaboration between heritage and non-heritage partners.
The session closed with the Community Archives of the Year awards. Prizes went to Chippenham Museum for Community Engagement, to Kirklees Local TV for Gathering and Preserving Heritage, and to the Irish Community Archive Network as the Best Network of Community Archives and Heritage Groups. The award for best Contribution to Wellbeing and the overall Community Archive of the Year award went to Kent’s Sporting Memories, a project dedicated to preserving sporting memories in east Kent, fostering wellbeing among older people from the area through sporting reminiscence, and exploring sport as social participation.
Do watch the AGM and the Heritage, Wellbeing and Belonging presentation above. You can also watch the awards ceremony at this link. Additional resources to accompany the presentation can be found here.