Fielding and Platt Community Archive

(July 2012 to September 2013)

Summary of project

The ongoing project aims to gather, preserve and share the heritage of Gloucester's engineering firm Fielding and Platt. The project encourages people to share their memories and other records of Fielding and Platt and the Quays, bringing back to life the firm's story for the wider community. The firm's business archive is preserved at Gloucestershire Archives and an online catalogue is being produced as part of the project. Volunteers are key to delivering the project and have received training in a variety of skills including oral history interviewing and editing, digital story-telling, website editing and cataloguing archival material.

Partnership working

The project is a partnership between Gloucestershire Archives, as project leaders, and Gloucester City Centre Community Partnership (GCCCP, a resident-led voluntary organisation) with support from Friends of Gloucestershire Archive, Gloucester Quays Retail Outlet Management Team and Gloucester Civic Trust.

Funding

The project was mainly funded through a Heritage Lottery Grant, donations from Friends of Gloucestershire Archives, Gloucestershire City Centre Community Partnership and Gloucester Quays Retail Outlet.

Challenges and opportunities

  • Initially the archive service had to secure support for the proposed project from key local organisations, developing a partnership with Gloucester City Centre Community Partnership and attracting support from the Gloucester Quays Retail Outlet. 'Selling' the project to this potential commercial supporter was a new experience for the archive service who had to work hard to make a convincing case
  • Developing and fostering relations with a wide range of stakeholders and supporters - from corporate bodies to local charities and individuals (as so many of the contributors are elderly, considerable time is involved in liaising on a one-to-one basis)
  • Recruiting, training, supervising and coordinating the large number of volunteers involved in a wide range of tasks and activities; in particular it was difficult to attract older volunteers to help with IT elements such as editing digital stories and contributing to the website
  • Devising ways to explain and interpret the relatively complex technological aspects of a heavy engineering business for wider audiences - this was crucial to make the project 'come alive'
  • Working with the designers to develop an iPhone application for visitors to the Quays inspired by the Fielding and Platt story was a particularly steep learning curve for the staff
  • Managing expectations and meeting the demands of the local community - over 130 people came forward, whereas originally recording 25 interviews was planned

Responding to the challenges or opportunities

  • Project staff met face-to-face with potential supporters and established common areas of interest. The project chimed with the Quays Management's business aim to provide attractions for its visitors, leading to the offer of a rent-free shop unit and a budget, including design costs, to create a semi-permanent interpretive display
  • A mixture of personal contact, email, regular articles in the local press, media-advertised events, newsletters and the website helped to foster relations with existing and potential contributors and keep people in touch with the project
  • The project officer was key in securing and co-ordinating volunteer support and developing strong links with the University of Gloucestershire's student volunteering programme
  • Digital storytelling was vital to interpreting and explaining what was involved and oral history interviews captured the range of detail needed. Working closely with the providers to decide on the format and content of the interactive game and marketing the iPhone app to visitors at the Quays will be crucial to the success of making this venture work
  • Recruiting more volunteers to carry out the interviews than originally planned. Although people are encouraged to contribute directly to the website, it is anticipated that this will take several months to happen as it should

What were the outcomes?

  • Five months into the 15 month long project, at least 130 people had contributed memories, photographs and documents. Thirty four oral history interviews had been conducted, representing a total 32.2 hours recording time given by our contributors
  • At least 20 active volunteers are now involved in a range of tasks from arranging and conducting oral history interviews, to editing these recordings, website editing, archive list compiling, and event co-ordination. In the first five months, 444 hours were donated to the project
  • Twenty-two donations of original archive material were made within the first five months, plus some 30 temporary deposits for copying in September 2012. At least 750 people attended events for Heritage Open Week
  • During its first three months, the website has had 870 visitors, totalling 5,515 page views with visitors from as far as America, Canada, Australia and Iran (some messages and comments are available on the website)

What went well? What didn't go quite as well?

  • Partnership working is essential to sustaining the archive service so the experience gained from this project will help advise, plan and deliver the future service
  • Working with new partners, in particular with GCCCP and Gloucester Quays, has raised the profile of both the project and the archives service in the wider community
  • Exposure in the local media also helped raised the profile of the project and the archives service. BBC Gloucestershire featured the project for its 'Great Gloucester History Day' event in July
  • 'Memory Fair' was held as part of Gloucester's popular Heritage Week in September
  • Project officer published regular articles in the local newspaper
  • A former 'Skills for the Future' trainee was recruited as part-time project officer, although in retrospect, a full-time post would have been better place to cope with demand from contributors and expanded activities
  • Fielding and Platt's large business archive was successfully catalogued by employing a freelance archivist to create the framework and using volunteers to provide additional detail
  • The reluctance of older volunteers to engage with digital technology, despite training and support being offered was disappointing. However, local university students filled this gap in the short-term and this has set up a longer term potential partnership

Developing this work in the future

  • Liaising with the Quays to maintain the Fielding and Platt display and looking for opportunities to illustrate other aspects of the heritage of its site
  • Encourage a core group of volunteers to develop and continue the social aspect of the project (eg organising future reunions) and to refresh the website
  • Preserve and maintaining access to the project archive and the original business archive, to be drawn on for future projects (eg evidence for Fielding and Platt employees' wartime service can be used for a proposed First World War project)
  • Working with the University of Gloucestershire to build opportunities for relevant work experience for its students into future projects

Find out more about the project: www.fieldingandplatthistory.org.uk.