All Archives Great and Small

Two years ago when we began the Paganel Archives project and were confronted with a room full of bags of children’s work and boxes of photos and shelves of art and craft projects we were a bit daunted!

Two years later, with our beautifully designed archive room, an online catalogue and a team of year 6 archivists we feel quite pleased with ourselves for the job we have done in creating Paganel Archives, a living school archive that documents its school and community from the school’s opening in 1938, to the present day.  We even have an ongoing archive after school club to keep recording, collecting, archiving and cataloguing

Paganel School Archives
Paganel School Archives

This week we went to visit The National Archives to see how it compared…… it’s a bit bigger!

We were amazed to discover that they have over 12 million items stored on about 150 miles of shelving – pretty much the distance we travelled from Weoley Castle to visit The National Archives in Kew!  We had a fantastic time being shown round two huge archive stores and followed the journey of a document from its request to its production.  Unlike our archive, where we can just turn round to a shelf and pull it down, the request was generated electronically and even sometimes fetched on a trike!

Exploring the National Archives
Exploring the National Archives
Paganel School Archives
Paganel School Archives Room










There were some similarities though. We noted the two and three letter codes for finding material that we use as well, the use of ties, the archival boxes for storage and the use of gloves for serving photos – all practices that Paganel young archivists are very used to.  We also both have our own branded pencils which we exchanged!

It was great to have a chance to share stories of our archive with Clem, the director of the National Archives, to tell him about our punishment books, our recorded museum of me project and our oral history interviews.

We were tremendously impressed by The National Archives, how helpful everyone was and how much amazing material they have there (we saw Henry VIII’s portrait in the Valor Ecclesiasticus!) and how much they do to conserve it and make it accessible. It was exciting and inspiring and it felt good to be part of a national organisation that is much about capturing heritage and sharing it.

It has to be said though, our myths and legends themed archive room still has the edge on their search room…!

Paganel Archives room is available to visit by appointment by contacting Paganel School office on 0121 464 5040.   More information about the archive can be found at

Information about The National Archives, visiting and their collections  can be found at


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 organisations, health sectors, etc. And that respective sectors and organisations 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 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 able to be courageous and resilient. 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 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 or see the following link:


Izzy Mohammed

Stories from the Mill

I used to think I had the best job in the world, education & outreach officer at Birmingham Archives & Heritage; a sublime mix of delving into the past through archival documents and photos and working with young people and community groups to document their lives and our changing city.


Then in January I answered the call for volunteer millers at Sarehole Mill.  Suddenly every waking thought was about millstones and wheel revolutions, about chutes, tuns, hoppers and damsels and I found myself in a new world of the old.  Now of course it all makes sense; a seamless path from researching and recording stories about Birmingham’s history to real life hands on experience.

I am part of a team of volunteers learning how to operate the mill following it’s major  £450,000 restoration and refurbishment project.  Sarehole Mill is one of only two surviving working watermills in Birmingham ( the other is New Hall Mill) and there have probably been millers doing what we have started to learn to do since the Tudor period, although our existing building has only (!) been here since about 1750. 


Standing alongside the wheel pit, feeling the fineness of the flour as it descends the chute from the stones above, recording the highs and lows of the milling day, at the same desk that the miller recorded his own log, puts you in touch with millers of the past (though we can only look on in admiration at their production  in comparison to our paltry offerings).


I like to think that millers from the past had the same rush of excitement I feel, each time the inner sluice gate opened and the water flooded onto the wheel with a loud roar, to power the stones and the grain hoist and remind everyone that there is proper business at work in the mill.

But it is the stories in the mill that are my greatest joy: Standing by the flour chute or next to the hopper, watching the grain feed into the stones, you are an open invitation for people to chat to you about what they see and feel and remember.  This has been a powerful and fascinating experience.  Many people have recollections of the mill from long ago; stories of playing there, wading up the stream to it, and of the derelict building.  I have spoken to a woman visibly moved by the renovation and the actual working of the mill and heard stories of a man’s grandfather’s mill in India producing chapati flour.

Sarehole Mill is an immersive archive experience.  The archives have been essential in the mill restoration, in developing a team of millers who appreciate the history of this particular mill, and in inspiring and enthusing a new audience.

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

Useful links:

Guest blogger: Fight for the Right: the Birmingham Suffragettes

film scene - the arrest of Hilda Burkitt
Film scene – the arrest of Hilda Burkitt

Fight for the Right: the Birmingham Suffragettes is a history project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. Two groups of students from Kings Norton Girls’ School and Waverley School have looked at archive material about the different ways of campaigning and protesting by women who wanted to gain the vote. They then used that material as inspiration for a short film which focuses on the activities of the suffragettes and their more peaceful counterparts, the suffragists. While a few of the young people involved had some previous knowledge of the suffragettes, very little was known about activities that took place in Birmingham: Fight for the Right aims to change that. Although primarily a history project, these two diverse communities of young women have also explored voting, politics and women’s rights today.

Continue reading “Guest blogger: Fight for the Right: the Birmingham Suffragettes”

Gender Matters: trans history

Gender Matters1
Ben and Melissa’s story

Gender Matters has been awarded Heritage Lottery Funding to capture the oral histories of the trans community in the West Midlands.

Birmingham Archives and Heritage have been supporting the project to help map the history of trans experience.

Members of the group are telling their stories through stories, song, poetry and art, which will form a permanent record of trans experiences in the region.

This is Ben and Melissa’s story:

Ben is a cross dresser and has captured his story – and his transition to Melissa through a series of photos and memories: 

‘I got married when I was 21 so my access to women’s clothes increased…but the difficulty in hiding it also increased.  There was a subconscious desire to be found out and accepted, combined with the fear of not being accepted.’

The stories describe positive and uplifting journeys.

‘I wasn’t prepared to go through the deceit and lies in another relationship so I was very upfront in the early stages and was thankful that she was accepting and supportive which has enabled me and Melissa to flourish. It’s a cross dressers dream to be accepted and supported.’

Rachel MacGregor

Guest Blogger: new book on Birmingham’s African heritage

Birmingham Parade, 1953 [LS: Misc Photos/WW2]
The starting point for the Heritage Lottery Funded project NewAfrican Leaders Contributions of Africans in Birmingham from 1950 was the issue of a lack of knowledge about modern African migration and integration in the city of Birmingham.

This project was developed by working closely with the Outreach team at Birmingham Libraries and Archives (Izzy Mohammed and Dr Andrew Green), and with Dr Lisa Goodson, lecturer at the Institute of Applied Social Studies, University of Birmingham. The support provided by our partners helped in the development and delivery of the project.

Birmingham Libraries and Archives’ senior archivists, Corinna Rayner and Rachel MacGregor, provided important support around archive skills training. Thanks also to Brigitte Winsor for her advice regarding our exhibition. The project also received training from the Oral History Society which helped in the collection of interviews from members of the community. The combination of all this support led the project to eventually deposit a collection of over 30 oral histories. This was a very important moment for the project and the community.

Front cover of this new book
‘NewAfrican Leaders Contributions of Africans in Birmingham from 1950’ by Frederick Ebot Ashu

Delivering this project means that we can support the further integration of the community, and contribute towards a more cohesive city and society. The archive offers an impressive collection of material and learning sources through the individuals I have talked with regarding why they – or their parents – came to the United Kingdom, their experiences when they arrived, their subsequent experiences of settlement and integration, as well as, their achievements and contributions within their adopted society.

The project produced a book, which looks at the migration and integration of the African population in Birmingham, an exhibition and online  material.
For more information please see:

Frederick Ebot Ashu (CAASS UK Project Manager)