Tag Archives: Community archives

New accession: Shades of Black Community Family Project

In September 2017 we were delighted to receive over 40 boxes of material in to the Library’s collections from the Shades of Black Community Project led by Mrs Eunice McGhie-Belgrave. This was to add to a smaller body of material already in the archive from Shades of Black.

Shades of Black began in February 1989 as a response to the Handsworth Riots when five local women met together to discuss what could be done to rebuild the community and take positive action. From this initial meeting to the present day, Shades of Black has carried out a range of successful projects at the grassroots level with the aim of bringing people together and helping community members develop new skills which in turn increases their self-esteem. The newly acquired material is a record of almost 30 years of dedicated community work.

One example of this is the H.E.L.P. Allotments project. Based in Handsworth and established in 1999. It enabled school pupils to get involved in gardening, donating some of their produce to the elderly to celebrate Harvest. The project gained coverage from BBC Gardener’s World and local radio stations as well as immersing many children in the pleasures of growing their own fruit and vegetables.

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Real People, Real Archives: a crucial lesson from ‘Connecting Histories’

‘The Talking Tent’, Birmingham Citizens Day (2005) MS 4786

‘The Talking Tent’, Birmingham Citizens Day (2005) MS 4786

The Connecting Histories Project [CHP] is ten years old this month.  Whilst it formally lasted just two years, its legacy has continued through subsequent projects (Birmingham Stories, Suburban Birmingham) and crucially, through the people it touched.  These included the project team members, but importantly also those members of the public who were encouraged to engage with archives in many, varied ways.[i]

The CHP was a partnership between Birmingham Library & Archives Service and the universities of Birmingham and Warwick.  Funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, it set out to engage with communities who were largely marginalised from the cultural / heritage mainstream.  A multi-disciplinary team was assembled, consisting of established and trainee archivists, academics, researchers, outreach officers and a web editor.  It strove to make existing archives more accessible through cataloguing and outreach exercises, whilst demonstrating their relevance to wide ranges of people.  It also sought to make the institution of ‘the archives’ more welcoming to diverse communities, by attracting new collections relevant to them and through greater participation in the archive profession by under-represented groups, as employees and as volunteers.  To this end, the project mentored two cultural / heritage graduates as they studied by distance learning to become archivists, whilst working directly as cataloguers and organising practical sessions with volunteers drawn from community groups.

The Somaliland Diaspora (2007) MS 4786

The Somaliland Diaspora (2007) MS 4786

A major lesson learned early on was the crucial role that archives have in validating peoples’ notion of self-worth – both as individuals and as members of communities (however defined).  Whilst many archivists recognise this at an intellectual level, the pressures and practicalities of daily duties sometimes dull this awareness.  The CHP was forcefully reminded of this key role as we encountered people for whom self-identity was a precious possession.  Migrants and especially refugees often had little to affirm their original cultural identity and they cherished those records, mementoes and memories that survived with them.  The CHP (and its successors) encountered Jewish and Polish refugees from World War Two and its aftermath, as well as refugees from more recent conflicts.

The example of Ahmed reflects this.  As a refugee from Somaliland, he is anxious that his personal story is recorded and understood, as well as that of his community.  As Twenty First Century arrivals in Birmingham, the traditional pattern of archival accruals would not normally reflect this aspect of City life for many years.  Through patient encouragement and dialogue with Ahmed and others, the CHP has addressed this and ensured that the issues relating to a distinctive Somaliland community are recorded.[ii]

One City – Many Stories (2006) MS 4786

One City – Many Stories (2006) MS 4786

Unfortunately, refugee experiences are not confined to any one group of people and Ahmed has worked with CHP to enable diverse communities to share experiences and celebrate their own identities.  A series of events was organised to facilitate community interaction, including ‘Citizens’ Day’ (October 2005); ‘One City – Many Stories’ (March 2006) and ‘Connecting Diasporas’ (November 2006). Overall a range of insights into other communities was provided, but for me personally the whole rationale of CHP was encapsulated at the end of the ‘Connecting Diasporas’ event.  Ahmed presented the delegates with a large, sumptuous cake, baked by members of his community and celebrating his pride in being empowered to record his presence in the City through the archives.  That one gesture confirmed for me that archives are truly rooted in reality, reflecting and affecting real people.

Connecting Diasporas Cake (2006) MS 4786

Connecting Diasporas Cake (2006) MS 4786

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Guest blogger: Archive DIY – The Paganel Story

Everyone in year 5 went to the archive in town. We had to put on gloves when we were holding things (because things were very old and easily broken).  Now we have our own archive of the school and our local area and all the people here.

  Young Archivist at Paganel Primary School

Yr5 discovering archives at Library of Birmingham Archives

Yr5 discovering archives at Library of Birmingham Archives

This tells the story of the creation of Paganel Primary School Archive, the first ARCHON registered repository archives in a UK state primary school.

Over the past two years we have been working with Library of Birmingham Outreach and Archive service to collect, record, archive and catalogue the history of our school and our community and to make it accessible for this community. Funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund this is a two year partnership project, working with Weoley Castle Ruins, BMAG, Library of Birmingham, Sellywood House Residential Home and Weoley Castle Community Library.

Oral testimonies have been crucial to bring to life heritage, and we have completed over 100 interviews on a range of local related topics.  These oral testimonies and the value we place on them by documenting, cataloguing and referencing to existing heritage sources, validates the contribution of people in Weoley Castle and inspires learning in the school.

Interviewing a parent for the archives

Interviewing a parent for the archives

Cataloguing and labeling in Paganel Archives

Cataloguing and labeling in Paganel Archives

Weoley Castle, in which Paganel Primary School is located, is a unique interwar housing estate built to enable slum clearance in Birmingham, built within a rural community and around a medieval castle.  The lives of people in the school and community represents the social and cultural changes of our times and have not been well documented.  Schools have a very particular and important role within our community and are in a unique position to both document social life and engage children, parents and local community in our rich heritage, across all generations.

Over the past two years we have worked with the whole school to create and develop the archive and Yr 5 children have had a special role in designing the archive room in conjunction with set designers from the Rep. With the support from Library of Birmingham, Archives and Heritage, we have also established an Archives After-School Club – a unique after-school club of pupils which meets every week to interview people, catalogue, and organise and manage the Archives and will continue after our project has finished.

After nearly two years of hard work, on 28th June 2013 2:00 Paganel Archives will be officially opened.  It is quite an achievement, but the real achievement of Paganel Archives, is putting heritage at the heart of it’s community.

Marcus Belben
Project Coordinator
@PaganelSchool

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