Why Cultural Engagement, Participation and Outreach matters?!

Why Cultural Engagement, Participation and Outreach matters?!

Why Cultural Engagement, Participation and Outreach matters

Across a great many socially-conscious and welfare-orientated sectors, working with people and communities – towards social, cultural and economic betterment – is an integral element of the work; for example, the cultural sector, with Libraries, Archives and Museums; the Health Sector, whether in regards to sexual health or addressing causes of disease; working with young people, through youth facilities and various other methods of engagement.

Importantly, there is recognition that in order to make a difference, to improve lives, in an individual or collective/group context, work engaging the people who might benefit intervention or help – or who might simply enjoy participating or being involved – must be proactive rather than passive. What we mean is that we readily understand that the people who need the most help are the one’s usually least likely to engage directly with services, cultural organisation, health sectors, etc. And that respective sectors and organisation in the work of helping and supporting people and communities must be proactive in the engagement of respective groups rather than passive.

This area of work has grown substantially in recent years (though its beginnings would be hard to trace without concerted effort). The work is often described in terms ‘Outreach’ activities, widening ‘Participation’ programmes, and ‘Cultural Engagement’ (to name a few). In tandem, there has been a steady development of the practice involved – its professionalization, with significant expertise involved drawing upon a range of disciplines and skill sets. However, this has not always been acknowledged, including the value of these skills and the professionals that have developed them to their areas of interest.

Connected Histories - artwork produced during workshop session

Connected Histories – artwork produced during workshop session

Finally, in attempting to engage with community groups and people of all descriptions, there are perhaps two important things to think about:

  1. What does it take to engage people (knowing that, for example, many of the groups ‘engagement practitioners’ seek to support or work with are often marginalised or disadvantaged, so called ‘hard-to-reach’)?
  2. What do we do when we have engaged or reached people? How effective are we in our transmission of ideas and messages; in our activities. How transformational is our work?

The above two points are crucially related but are also distinct. Not all practitioners do both; some do one or the other, depending on the context, and on other occasions do both; there are practitioners, too, who might do both frequently. At all times, effective engagement, participation and outreach must be context driven; who are we seeking to engage and why? What are the techniques we are using? How effective are these likely to be?

Connected Histories - filming project group visit to Imperial War Museum

Connected Histories – filming project group visit to Imperial War Museum

We also need to be. The work isn’t easy and often requires stepping beyond comfort zones and accepting that we will make mistakes – but, as it is frequently said, it is when things don’t work out that we learn the most.

For those that are involved in Cultural Engagement, Broadening/Widening Participation and Outreach work, we need to develop the language to support our field and continue to make the case; we need to establish communities of practice; and we need to better research and document what we do; we need to accord fellow practitioners with respect, and respect and fundamentally believe in the work we all do.

Our work can only be transformative if we believe in it, work to our best ability and continue to engage people and communities directly.

It is because the Library of Birmingham is so passionate about this field of work that we have organised the Cultural Engagement Conference (Saturday 26th April), at the Library of Birmingham. This we expect to be an annual event, enabling this area of work to be developed further by colleagues and interested parties together and by acknowledging the change this work has already engendered.

For more information, please contact Izzy Mohammed on 0121 303 6691 / email izzy.mohammed@birmingham.gov.uk or see the following link:



Izzy Mohammed

Preserving your family papers – a practical approach to the preservation of photographs

Conservation materials commonly used in AH&P

Conservation materials commonly used in AH&P

Last month we posted up some basic pointers for the preservation of personal papers, including a few general guidelines for the care of photographs. This post will focus specifically on photographs to allow for additional detail in the suggestions for their particular care.

Since their invention in 1839, photographs have become such a common feature of most people’s lives that it is easy to forget how vulnerable they are. When considering how to handle, care for, store, and display your photographs it may be helpful to bear in mind that a photographic image is the result of a chemical reaction which occurs when light-sensitized material is exposed to light. Most importantly, this chemical reaction does not stop once the image has been captured, it is merely temporarily interrupted. So from that point onwards the length of a print’s life depends, amongst other things, on being able to prevent this chemical reaction from continuing until the image is lost. This is done primarily through limiting exposure to heat and light. Despite a photograph’s seemingly robust appearance, it is probably the least durable and most easily damaged of all image types.

Of course, a photograph can be created by one of many processes, and images have been made on a variety of materials ranging from glass and paper to metal or plastics. While each photographic process is unique, and photographs can vary dramatically in appearance and format, there are things which can be done to help preserve them for as long as possible.

Some of the following have already been mentioned in the previous blog post, they are included again here for completeness sake.

Handling basics

  • Ensure hands and working surfaces are clean, dust-free and dry and only hold photographs, slides, and negatives at the very edges. Finger prints cannot be removed and attract dirt so, ideally, white cotton, vinyl or nitrile powder free disposable gloves should be worn.
  •  Try to keep items on a flat surface for support and, when carrying items from place to place, use a box lid or tray – particularly if you are working on large photographs, glass negatives or lantern slides. If you have a large collection of photographs and again particularly if you are working with glass negatives, it may be worth covering a stiff piece of card with several layers of white tissue and using it as a work surface. You can tear off a layer of tissue as it becomes dirty and the pad you have made will act as a cushion should you accidentally lose your grip on the glass.
  • Do not force curled/folded items open as this will cause damage. If your photographs are loose and beginning to curl, store them face down to stop this from getting worse until you can put them into sleeves or mount them.
  • Cased photographs such as daguerreotypes should not be dismantled even if only to change a damaged cover glass. The image on the support surface is not ‘fixed’ and the slightest disturbance will cause irretrievable loss. It is advisable to seek the advice of a Conservation professional regarding care and storage of these items.
  • Do not leave your photographs out in the light unnecessarily. Cover prints you are not working on or looking at – or turn them face down. Even short bursts of exposure to light will contribute to a photograph fading and colour photographs are especially vulnerable.

Continue reading

Rest House at Bournville – One Hundred Years On

Crowd on Bournville Green during the opening of the Rest House [MS 466/41 Box 8/44. 1914]

Crowd on Bournville Green during the opening of the Rest House 1914
[MS 466/41 Box 8/44]

George and Elizabeth Cadbury celebrated their silver wedding anniversary in April 1913 and the Rest House at Bournville was built to commemorate this occasion.  The Building was designed by William Alexander Harvey, who was architect of many other buildings on the estate, from workers’ ‘cottages’ to Bournville Junior and Infant Schools. Harvey aimed to design a building that “would be in entire harmony with its surroundings.”  The Rest House was based on a seventeenth-century market hall at Dunster in Somerset.  Interestingly, Dunster was not unknown to Cadbury’s employees.  In 1909 the Bournville Youths’ Club had held its summer camp there: perhaps this experience influenced the choice of the Market Hall as the inspiration for the Rest House?  Paid for by the world-wide employees of Cadbury Bros Ltd, the Rest House was officially opened on 18 April 1914 and these photographs record some elements of that day. 

E. S Thackray handing over Rest House to Mr and Mrs George Cadbury [MS 466/41 Box 8/41. 1914]

E. S Thackray handing over Rest House to Mr and Mrs George Cadbury
[MS 466/41 Box 8/41]


Opening of Rest House [MS 466/41 Box 8/39 1914]

Opening of Rest House 1914
[MS 466/41 Box 8/39]

Following the formal opening ceremony and the many individual speeches from a wide range of Bournville employee representatives, cables were read on behalf of the Cadbury overseas operations, including India and Australia. In his response, George Cadbury recalled the difficulties of the early years of the company before the move to the Bournville site, several miles from the crowded centre of Birmingham.  The decision to move in 1879 had been seen as something of a rash act but had given the firm space to respond to the needs of the growing business and to expand from a workforce of 250 to 6,855.  George Cadbury also referred to these early years of struggle but equally the fellowship between himself, his brother Richard and their workers that had developed and continued still.   He described the importance he had set on improving the housing provision so as to ensure children could “enjoy the benefits sunshine, fresh air and the beauties of nature”.  The housing experiment had garnered international interest and had influenced similar experiments around the globe, including Ebenezer Howard, the young garden city exponent.

Elizabeth Cadbury expressed her gratitude for the “delightful and appropriate gift” and commented on the value of a place of rest in the midst of the busy life of work, school and home, commenting that the building was “symbolic of our need in these hustling, materialistic days” with the Rest House providing kind shelter and seating. Towards the end of the twentieth century the Rest House was re-opened and became a focal point for the carillon and associated activities at Bournville.

Miss Phoebe Robinson presents Mrs George Cadbury with a bouquet [MS 466/41 Box 8/42]

Miss Phoebe Robinson presents Mrs George Cadbury with a bouquet
[MS 466/41 Box 8/42]

This important 1914 event and the memory of George and Elizabeth is to be celebrated on Saturday 12 April 2014 with a formal gathering at the Rest House at 12 noon, with further carillon recitals during the day.  Full details can be found at:



The Rest House, The Green, Bournville. Grade 11 Listed building

Octagonal with 3-light mullioned windows with, above, projecting gables with 2-light mullioned windows. The 2 tiers of windows are separated by deeply overhanging eaves supported on brackets. The steep-pitched roof is surmounted by a small glazed lantern with elaborate metal weathervane.

Alison Smith

Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day is the time for giving chocolates and flowers and to illustrate that we have an image from the Cadbury Album of chocolate box covers which is part of the extensive collection of records held here in Birmingham from the Cadbury business archive.

Chocolate Box Covers  MS 466/ 785924

Chocolate Box Covers
MS 466/ 785924

John Cadbury started his one man grocery business in the 1820s in Birmingham selling tea and branching out into the luxury market of preparing drinking chocolate and cocoas. His business flourished, there was endorsement from royalty and the chocolate became refined and eatable. However, the firm did begin to fail along with the health of John and eventually, in 1860 John passed the business over to his two sons Richard and George.  The artistically inclined Richard concentrated on sales and George concentrated on the manufacturing side.  The two young men in their early twenties faced bankruptcy on a daily basis but, determination fostered by the work ethic and Quaker beliefs instilled in their characters drove the business forward. The business flourished again and eventually expanded to new premises 4 miles south of Birmingham in 1879. Richard had employed his considerable artistic talents to promote the eating chocolate market by creating the first British chocolate boxes and enhancing them with his own designs and paintings, using his children as models and scenes and landscapes from his travels.

Chocolate Box Covers  MS 466/ 785924

Chocolate Box Covers
MS 466/ 785924

Mother’s day is traditionally a celebration of mothers and motherhood and the place of mothers in society. The commercial celebration began in the United States in the early 20th century, but the tradition has its roots in Greek and Roman society and before. The Christian mothering Sunday was originally a celebration of the mother church. Now, around the world,  the day is usually fixed to an existing Spring holiday; for example in the UK we celebrate Mother’s Day on the fourth Sunday of Lent before Easter, whilst socialist countries tend to honour motherhood on International Women’s Day in March. The extent of celebration varies greatly from country to country, from a little celebrated event to places where it is positively offensive to one’s mother not to mark the occasion (that is the case in my place I would have to say!)

However you celebrated, let’s have a high five for your mom and here’s to chocolates all round!

Judy Dennison     March 2014

Charles Parker Day 2014

Charles Parker  interviewing Mrs Costello photographed by Bob Etheridge  [MS 4000 2004/172]

Charles Parker interviewing Mrs Costello photographed by Bob Etheridge
[MS 4000 2004/172]

Studio Theatre, The Library of Birmingham                                             Friday 4th April 2014 10.30-17.30 

The extensive Charles Parker Archive [ref. no. MS 4000] stored at Archives, Heritage and Photography at the Library of Birmingham, comprises the papers and tape recordings collected by Charles Parker (d. 1980). Parker was a BBC radio producer in Birmingham until the 1970s, was an activist and co-founder of the Birmingham and Midland Folk Centre, Grey Cock Folk Club and Banner Theatre of Actuality. He was a tireless campaigner for the voice of ordinary people to be heard on radio, and the folk music and song which originally came from the working classes to be preserved and re-used for contemporary campaigns.

The 10th Charles Parker Day, the annual conference that celebrates the radio feature – past, present and future –  will be held at the Studio Theatre, Library of Birmingham on Friday 4 April, 2014.

The first Charles Parker Day was organised by the Centre for Broadcasting research at Bournemouth University on 5 April (Charles Parker’s birthday) in 2004. It included the launch of the Charles Parker prize for students of radio features.

For the last eight years, the main theme of the conference has been the Radio Ballads, for which Parker and his collaborators, Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger became famous.

It’s 50 years since the last of these eight innovative radio features – ‘The Travelling People’ – was broadcast. So this year, the Charles Parker Day celebrates this ballad about travellers and examines the legacy of the whole series of Radio Ballads.

For this special occasion one of the original creative team, Peggy Seeger, will attend the day and will reflect on the making of the ballads, in particular ‘The Travelling People’, in an illustrated conversation with Peter Cox (author of the definitive book on the Radio Ballads ‘Set into Song’).

But have attitudes towards travellers changed during the intervening 50 years? Heritage writer and consultant Sarah Baylis will examine the relevance for travellers today of the original recordings for the ‘Travelling People’ in the Charles Parker Archive. Continue reading

Preserving your family papers – a practical approach to preservation

Town Clerks deeds in new archival boxes

Example of the types of boxes we use to store archives  at AH&P

Many of you have read about our preparations for the move and the careful packaging of thousands and thousands of items. Whilst contributing to the wrapping of the book stock in Archives and Heritage, I often wondered about where these items had come from – how had they made their way into our collections and where had they been kept before. Inevitably some items were more in need of attention than others but it occurred to us that there are untold numbers of collections in private, community and business hands that, if looked after properly now, would hopefully find their way to an archives such as ours, in a good condition sometime in the future.

Archives are not just paper documents; they can be made of parchment, be photographs, maps, plans, bound in volumes, loose in a drawer. If you think something is important enough to be kept long-term, it’s best to start looking after it now. Although each circumstance is different and each location where archives are stored will have its own unique conditions, we thought it might help to give a few basic pointers – things to be aware of when storing personal papers. We will be looking at photographs specifically in a few weeks’ time, but there are some simple steps that can be taken to help protect archives, and some things that should be avoided!

Choosing a storage location

  • Avoid storing items in attics, garages and basements as they can be damp and are prone to leaks, flooding, mould, pests and extremes of temperature.  If these areas must be used ensure all shelving is at least 15cm from the floor and keep items away from exterior walls.
  • Avoid storage near to vehicles, aerosols, paints and varnishes, windows and exterior doors, as chemical fumes and everyday air pollution can accelerate deterioration.
  •  Keep items away from heat sources, electrical equipment and magnetic fields as these accelerate damage and aging. 
  •  A clean, dark environment with a fairly constant temperature and humidity, such as an above ground cupboard in the centre of your home, is ideal for storage.
  •  Block out direct sunlight and switch off any lights when not in use.
  • Keep all pets, food and drink away from items.

 Handling and storage basics

  • Avoid directly handling fragile items where possible.  Ensure hands are clean and only hold photographs, negatives, artworks and films at the edges (ideally cotton, vinyl or nitrile gloves should be worn).
  • Try to keep items on a flat surface for support.  Place a rolled up towel on either side of a book’s spine to help support the structure when open.
  • Do not force curled/folded items or stiff books to open as this will cause damage.
  •  Avoid using elastic bands as they may perish or stick to items causing staining.
  • Avoid the use of metal pins and paperclips as they can rust and tear items.
  • Never use adhesive tapes to repair items as they can cause staining and adhere to other things.
  • Avoid storing photographs in plastic ‘magnetic’ albums with adhesive surfaces.  Photo corners or ‘pocket’ albums are preferred. Also avoid contact between facing images.
  • Store different types of materials (photographs, negatives, paper documents, objects, textiles etc) separately, keeping a note of items which belong together.
  • Keep newspaper clippings away from all other items you wish to preserve and use acid-free tissue paper rather than newspaper to wrap items for protection. (Newspaper is very poor quality, acidic paper which can harm other items).
  • Avoid the use of plastic and PVC wallets, plastic/bin bags or cling film for storage as these yellow and become sticky with age, often lifting the ink from documents.  Also avoid wooden storage boxes and drawers as they can contain chemicals which can transfer.
  • Try to store items flat and unfolded where possible.
  • Avoid marking items with ink (which fades and can bleed if damp). If necessary, write lightly with a HB pencil on the reverse. Continue reading

Celebrating the Irish Community in Birmingham: A Personal Perspective

The Library of Birmingham and Shard End Library have arranged a programme of events to coincide with the City’s Saint Patrick’s Festival.  This annual event culminates in the famous Parade which attracts thousands of visitors each year and which has become the third largest in the world, surpassed only by those in Dublin and New York.

The Irish Centre, Birmingham (MS 4672)

The Irish Centre, Birmingham
[MS 4672]

Birmingham’s Parade and much of Irish cultural life centres on Digbeth and Deritend and this photograph shows the Irish Centre which has been at the heart of Birmingham’s Irish Life for well over 50 years.  I have chosen this photograph (‘The Irish Centre, Birmingham (2014) – MS 4672) as the image to promote the Library’s programme for two reasons.

Firstly, the Irish Centre has played a major part in my life, as it has for very many others of all generations in the local Irish community.  Its proud invitation is ‘Everyone Welcome’ and this underpins the philosophy which has sustained it through the good and bad times of the post war period.  The Centre has offered welfare, cultural and entertainment services and in the 1980s I availed myself of Galway Travel Service and Slattery’s Magic Coach for my frequent journeys to Ireland, the Centre hosting the former and providing the Birmingham Terminal for the latter.

Crucially however, this photograph was taken by me and has been donated to the Library of Birmingham archives.  It represents my small attempt to redress an imbalance within the archive collections which has arisen through an accident of history.  Despite the Irish presence in Birmingham having been ubiquitous for so long, the community’s footprint in the archival landscape is faint, often hidden and half-forgotten.  As an archivist trying to meet researchers’ requests for information about the Irish, I find this frustrating.  As a member of the local Irish community, I find it disappointing that we are not more forthcoming in communicating our successes and experiences to our fellow citizens.  Of course, within an institution as large as the Library of Birmingham there are records which can be used to assist with this communication and I will draw on these in my talk ‘Glimpsing Irish Birmingham: Images from the Archives’ on Wednesday 12th March 2014, where I will reveal much that seems commonplace but which reflects the City’s rich Irish heritage.

Despite all of this however, I am still confronted in my professional work with a relative lack of accessible, relevant records relating to Irish Birmingham.  Drawing inspiration from the positive approach of three members of the local Irish Community* I have followed their lead and have now engaged directly with Birmingham’s formal heritage institutions.  I have donated this photograph and other items relating to contemporary local Irish life to the Library of Birmingham.  Whilst my photographic skills are rudimentary, I hope that my example will prompt others to follow my example so that the Irish presence in Birmingham is more accurately represented and that members of all other communities similarly feel encouraged to strengthen their own archival presence.

Please come to one or more of the events in the ‘Celebrating the Irish Community’ series.  Just as with the Irish Centre, I am proud to say ‘Everyone Welcome’!

*Brendan Farrell has kindly agreed to donate a major photographic sequence to the Library of Birmingham, Pat O’Neill has been a long time supporter of cross community dialogue and Frank Feeney has promoted the enduring links of the Feeneys of Sligo with Birmingham, as shown by this photograph of an art mural in Digbeth (MS 4672).

Art mural in Digbeth [MS 4672]

Art mural in Digbeth
[MS 4672]

 Jim Ranahan

Want to read more? Why not take a look at Saint Patrick Would Approve?