Archive to Survive!

on Tuesday, 20 November 2018. Posted in Archives, History Centre

My name is Annette and I am an Employer Engagement Officer with Wiltshire Council  working on a program called Building Bridges. 

Building Bridges is funded by the European Social Fund and the National Lottery, through the Big Lottery Fund.”

Several weeks ago, Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre & Building Bridges set out on a journey of discovery and learning with five would-be archivists with a love of all things past. You could say a real ‘Throwback Thursday’ as this is the day we came together to indulge in something we all love: history.

I can’t believe we have nearly come to the end of our first but I hope not last ‘Archive to Survive’ project.

After attending a learning symposium facilitated by Wiltshire Museum & Heritage Service and hearing a presentation from The Museum of London and the work they were doing with Autism in Museums I was buzzing - I couldn’t wait to do something similar.

Lucky for me I had already formed a working relationship with the fabulous Heather Perry -Conservation & Museum Manager who was nearly as excited as me, and completely on board.

We decided we wanted to target our project at those who may have found it hard to gain paid employment due to anxiety, depression, or other barriers. We wanted to promote confidence and skills learning that would support their journey, and give them a sense of wellbeing and inclusion. 

So along with my Building Bridges partners in crime Lorraine, Laura and the lovely Sophie, Conservator (Archives) at the History Centre, we set about putting our plan into action. 

If you are reading this it is possible you will know that in Wiltshire & Swindon we have an amazing purpose-built facility that holds the county wide archives. What you may not know is that the public can come in and research things from family histories, to who lived in your house 100 years ago. To do this every document held at the centre needs to be catalogued and this is where we came in.

We wanted to offer an opportunity for a group of people to come in and work with trained professionals to learn all about maintaining and cataloguing this amazing resource. Preserving it for future generations and so Archive to Survive was born.

We recruited five like-minded participants with a love of history and our journey of learning began back in August. Since then we have come together every Thursday and have been building on our confidence and skills, and form new friendships.

The group looking at one of Community History Advisor Ian Hicks’s favourite items in the archives (the Seymour Pedigree ref 1300/376L)

Details from the Seymour Pedigree (1300/376L) taken by participant Richard © R. Taylor 2018

We have learnt:
• What is harmful to historic documents and how to recognise the signs
• How to clean and conserve documents
• Palaeography – the study of historic writing
• How to catalogue and archive

The group cataloguing

We have also learnt some fun facts about some wonderful Wiltshire characters, for example;

Did you know Lady Meux of Dauntsey House (1847 – 1910) was a Victorian socialite and the wife of Sir Henry Meux, 3rd Baronet and was known to ride through London in her carriage drawn by Zebras?

We have had a behind the scenes tour of this amazing facility, getting to see documents written and signed by Sir Oliver Cromwell and Florence Nightingale and even met the History Centre pet, a mummified cat…a bit creepy.

We are by no means experts yet and I won’t be giving up my day job, but we have all been inspired.

We finished on a high on the 27th of October when we took part in the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre open day. We had our own stand where we showed the public what we had been doing over the last 10 weeks.

Poster for the Building Bridges stand at the open day designed by participant Shelly

I am so proud to have been part of this project and to have worked with an amazing group of people, and receiving comments like this is the best bit. 

“I suddenly have confidence that I didn’t know I had!”

“I feel already with Sophie and yourself that we can freely share anything that concerns us without any assumptions being made. Even if it is just asking for help for something we lack confidence in, we are learning off each other all the time. It is a thumbs up from me!”

If you wanted to get involved or need more information and guidance around Building Bridges or Employment and Skills visit Work Wiltshire.


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