Lessons learnt: case studies

An Viet Archive

An Viet Foundation (AVF) was a community centre founded in 1982. It provided crucial social services to Vietnamese refugees and immigrants settling in the Hackney area. The AVF Archives consist of documents, photographs, ephemera, and books which acts as a record of the work it carried out. These records became at risk when the organisation’s activities wound down in 2017 with the departure of its founder, Mr Vu Khanh Thanh. The collection was left unattended in an increasingly dilapidated building and without adequate, protective packaging. A decision was made to move the collection but, due to its size, it was split between HCCS (Hackney Chinese Community Services) and the private residence of a community member. These temporary homes came with serious risks including loss of the integrity of the collection, lack of adequate packaging and the absence of finding aids or lists for the material. A long-term home for the material was also not secured. 

A solution was found when, Hackney Archives successfully secured a The National Archives Covid-19 Archives Fund Grant. Through this grant, Hackney Archives has been able to carry out emergency conservation work on items affected by water damage, create a box list for the books and archival material and have been working with a steering panel to find a permanent home for the collection and a supporting network to facilitate access to the collection.  

Archives and Records Council Wales Records at Risk Project

The Covid-19 pandemic had several implications for enabling sustainable access to archives across Wales. The economic impact has resulted in threats to the continuing operation of businesses, charities, and community organisations, with many closing with little warning.  The project aimed to ensure that those records most at risk are identified and prioritised, with steps taken to ensure that they are deposited with an established archive service. 

The following resources and guidance on records surveying and risk monitoring were developed with a grant by The National Archives Covid-19 Archives Fund. 

Focus points for the project included: 

  • carrying out ongoing monitoring of companies in financial difficulty throughout Wales to establish whether any of them house vulnerable collections with potential archival value; and 
  • conducting a remote survey of record-keeping among Welsh businesses and charities to identify opportunities to support in-house archival preservation or potential acquisition by an external archive repository. 

The guidance is organised into these two key strands. The first (‘Records at Risk Resources’) provides information about identifying and rescuing archives and records at risk among insolvent companies. It includes guidance created on behalf of ARCW as part of the Records at Risk project itself, as well as resources from external partners such as the Crisis Management Team. 

The second (‘Records Surveying Resources’) includes guidance on how to conduct remote surveys of records-keeping among external organisations such as charities and businesses, with links to additional external resources about records surveying more broadly. 

The toolkit and other project resources can be found at Records at Risk – Archives Wales which includes guidance on digital preservation for small businesses which was also commissioned as part of the project.’

BRENT 2020 Borough of Culture Collection

The records created during BRENT 2020 – Borough of Culture, are reflective of the social and cultural histories and practices of one of the most diverse boroughs in the UK. The collection includes the nationally significant and internationally recognised ‘No Bass Like Home’ reggae archive which pulls together Brent’s contribution to reggae history through a collection of oral histories including interviews with high profile individuals such as General Levy, Don Letts, Seani B and Robbo Ranx. The collection is almost completely digital in format. 

Following conversations with Brent shared IT services Brent Museums and Archives have secured 2TB of onsite storage which allows the service to accession and safely store the Brent 2020 – London Borough of Culture digital archive collection at no cost to the service. With the support of a grant from the Covid-19 Archives Fund we are purchasing hardware, office equipment and staff time necessary to undertake digital preservation work. This includes the acquisition of a Quantum 8. 12 LTO drive with which we would be able to back up all digital archive material. This drive and disk will ensure we are able to digitally secure the collection and preserve it from potential bit loss or damage.  

This will help us to develop the capacity of the service to acquire and preserve born-digital records at scale to ensure that the archive collections represent the current history of Brent and its communities.  

Thomas Cook Archives

In September 2019, the international travel firm Thomas Cook collapsed. Thousands of jobs were lost. People were left stranded on holiday or without the holiday they had paid for. The business entered compulsory liquidation and The Official Receiver was appointed liquidator. 

The firm began in 1841 in Leicester. The company had internationally important archives and artefacts. This collection of over 300 shelves had been extensively used by Thomas Cook and external researchers. Stored at head office in Peterborough, the collection was at risk of being broken up and sold. Widespread concerns from researchers, historians and the archive community were voiced publicly on social media, and privately in letters of support. 

The Business Archives Council and Crisis Management Team for Business Archives (CMT) stepped in to secure the archive’s future. They negotiated with The Official Receiver and insolvency firms tasked with winding up Thomas Cook. The timescale for the emptying and sale of the head office building was very tight. Archive services interested in offering the collection a new home was invited to submit a bid by 22 November 2019. The bids were considered by a panel that included the Business Archives Council, The Official Receiver, archive, and academics. On 28 November, the Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester, and Rutland (ROLLR) was informed that their bid had been successful. Thomas Cook had to vacate its head office by the end of 2019. ROLLR staff had three weeks to plan and complete the transfer of the collection. 

Apart from six high value artefacts which were sold on the instruction of the liquidator, archive, and most objects, including a First World War memorial window, are now in public ownership at ROLLR. They are available for research and enjoyment for generations to come.

Tower Museum & Vinny Cunningham’s Audio-Visual Collection

In 2021 Derry City & Strabane District Council’s Tower Museum used a grant from The National Archives Covid-19 Archives Fund to acquire a collection at risk, a unique audio-visual collection owned by well-known Derry cameraman and Producer/ Director, Vinny Cunningham.   The collection whose historical integrity and uniqueness lies in its completeness consists of, mainly analogue material, covering subjects as varied as protests, civil unrest, music, and sporting events.  It helps to tell the story of the region through visual histories.  Vinny has been present in the city filming many unique events, his knowledge of the collection and commitment to making the collection available was integral to the development of the project.  Much of the material, in particular the interviews and oral histories, have never been seen publicly. 

This was the first major audio-visual collection acquired by the Tower Museum and the project was a partnership with owner Vinny Cunningham and the Museum of Free Derry, with the advice and support of contractors RMC Media and Northern Ireland Screen.  It was a steep learning curve for the team as they adapted and developed digital learning skills. The original location of the collection was a garden office that was insecure and lacked adequate environmental controls. The collection has been transferred to the safe custody of the Tower Museum where it has been catalogued, particularly vulnerable pieces were identified for conservation, and the material was selectively digitised. A final report outlines potential engagement opportunities for future users whilst also advising on related issues such as storage and cataloguing needs. The material will be made available across several platforms including  Northern Ireland Screen’s Digital Film Archives ,focusing on promoting the collection to local heritage sites, visitors, and researchers.