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Community Archives and Heritage Group annual conference. A report by Christopher Scales

By Ian G Evans, on 17 July 2019

As the result of support from the Dean’s Strategic Fund at UCL I was able to attend the Community Archives and Heritage Group annual conference, which this year was taking place in Scotland for the first time, in Glasgow.

The day featured presentations about various projects centred on archives and community, often detailing the way that mainstream archives or funders had partnered with community groups and people-led initiatives to preserve stories from a diverse range of people. The focus of the conference was on projects relating to migration. The day included projects such as ‘Colourful Heritage’, centred on interviewing the first settlers of the Glasgow Asian community to create a unique video archive, and the largest of its kind in the U.K. Other projects showcased focused on creating awareness and tangible archives relating to Jewish communities in Scotland, the British Ukrainian community, Armenian heritage in North West England, and the Scottish LGBT+ community. It was fascinating to learn about the range of exciting projects taking place across the U.K. and the variety of contexts in which they were being supported, through the hard work of many individuals both community-based and in the archive and museums sectors.

While the day showed that funders are keen to invest in stories of diversity, it was clear that for some the funding didn’t necessarily come easily or regularly, and that these projects were as much a labour of love for the individuals involved as a ‘funded’ process. One speaker notably told of feeling unable to ask for certain administrative costs in the budget when apply for a HLF grant, and taking on too much of the burden personally despite being advised they could likely bid for more money. This perhaps illustrates one of the key issues with this kind of one-off funding – that due its nature as short-term and project-based, community members may feel that the funding is a blessing or a great favour, and therefore attempt to personally work overtime to match the supposed ‘favour’. The duty here is very much with funding bodies and the archive sector to explicitly encourage applicants to apply for a full range of roles in funding bids to enable them to deliver their projects without pushing community members beyond their personal limits. The archive and heritage funding sector should be providing the funding and framework so that community members are providing their expertise and passion, but not being expected to give more than they are able.

All in all it was clear that the relationship between community project and funders or supportive archive bodies was mutually beneficial and fruitful in expected and unexpected ways, at least for the duration of the projects. The work shown was also clearly filling a much needed gap in the heritage sector, recording the memories of members of communities and migration experiences often for the first time creating unique new records.

While in Glasgow I also had the opportunity to explore the Mitchell Library, home to the city archives and a wide arrange of other services. Recommended for the obvious but also for the seriously impressive array of 1970s carpets, worth a visit!

All in all it was an excellent day, and a great opportunity to learn about the exciting range of community-led and centred projects taking place around the country, as well as connect with my Scottish colleagues.

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