Peterborough Archives Service

apss-logoThe project aims to extend community engagement and partnership delivery through an ambitious and exciting three year programme of theatre, oral history and archive work to explore, archive and creatively interpret 40 years of Peterborough history, from 1968 to 2008. Led by Eastern Angles Theatre Company and the Peterborough Archives Service, the Forty Years on project draws extensively on local expertise. It encompasses a new approach to address the challenge of addressing a large-scale cataloguing backlog.


In the 1970s and 1980s, the city of Peterborough went through a period of extensive regeneration of such intensity and scale that it stands out as one of the most significant historical events in the history of the city’s evolution. It was changed from a large market town of 80,000 people to a small city of 166,000, receiving a massive influx of people into its midst; from London, Europe and further afield. The outcome was a completely new Peterborough; the look and feel of the City was transformed and with it a new and improved infrastructure.

The official story is held within the Peterborough Development Corporation archive, which is currently not catalogued nor accessible for public reference. The collection comprises over 450 boxes of written documentation, thousands of photographs and negatives and hundreds of plans. Alongside the official history within the archive there is  a hidden story of the changes to the city in the memories of Peterborough’s people: from long-standing members of the community who witnessed the changes, to people who migrated to Peterborough at the time, as well as recent migrants who have moved to the area 40 years on from when the changes were made. They all have a personal story to tell about how they have been affected by the transformation; and a viewpoint on the city in which they now live.

Peterborough Archives Service

Peterborough Archives Service is a part of Vivacity, an independent, not-for-profit organisation with charitable status. It manages many of Peterborough’s most popular culture, sport, art, leisure and heritage facilities on behalf of Peterborough City Council.

Peterborough Archives Service is a small repository. Cataloguing large and complex collections has always been a challenge due to the limited number of staff at the archives. The sole archivist has worked closely with volunteers for a number of years to deliver many aspects of the work. This has included the cataloguing of simple collections and preparing local history talks and outreach events.

The Archives Service’s in-house cataloguing planning tool (based on the logjam methodology) identified the Development Corporation records as the service’s most time and resource intensive collection. It also identified this collection as one of three that would bring the most benefit to users (including Peterborough Museum and partner organisations, such as Eastern Angles). The ‘Forty Years On’ project has been developed to address the challenge of making accessible these extensive and sought after records.

Project scope

From 2011, over two and a half years, Forty Years On is exploring, archiving and creatively interpreting records from 1968 to 2008. It is being delivered through an imaginative partnership between Peterborough Archives and Eastern Angles, a theatre company. Teams of volunteers, under the guidance of the Project Manager (Archivist) and two new staff members, are cataloguing the records of the Peterborough Development Corporation and recording oral history interviews with the citizens of the city caught up in this process. This material will then be passed on to Eastern Angles and its new participants, who will put on two theatre productions in the city, first a documentary play and then a community play involving hundreds of community practitioners.

There are five stages within the project. The first and last of these involve project set up and project wind down and evaluation. The three middle phases form the core of the project and these directly contribute to conservation, learning and participation.

The three phases are:

  1. conserving and cataloguing the Peterborough Development Archive
  2. collecting oral histories
  3. producing documentary and community plays

The entire project will conclude in 2014.

Phase 1: cataloguing

The cataloguing of the Peterborough Development Corporation is one of the project’s first active phases.

Project managed by the archivist, with support from the archives assistants and local studies librarian, a team of volunteers will box list extant records (committee minutes, reports, statistics, maps, plans and photographs). Working to a clear process and records structure, the team will be given extensive training in order to conduct the listing at file level and identify metadata to gather. A smaller group of volunteers will then input descriptions onto the CALM database.

The entire conservation and cataloguing stage will run throughout the project and is estimated to require 300 volunteer days over 2.5 years (an estimated 40 volunteers working in five person teams). This is a departure from established approaches to large scale cataloguing, which has always been the preserve of the archive professional. For these records it was agreed it would be easier to train volunteers in cataloguing, rather than achieve the requisite level of local expertise from a trained temporary cataloguer.

The cataloguing will also use the Revisiting Collections methodology to pull the expertise and experiences of Peterborough’s residents directly into the cataloguing process itself. In practical terms this will be achieved through engagement with individuals and groups who feel connected to the records.  They will be invited to participate in focus group sessions and their comments and stories will then be incorporated into the catalogue descriptions, surfacing factual information and enriching the interpretation and the meaning of the records.


  • £160,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund
  • £60,000 from Arts Council England’s ‘Grants for the arts’

Archive Pace setters

The project was awarded Archive Pace setter status in February 2012.

Further information

The ‘Forty Years On’ project

Find Peterborough Archives Service in Discovery, our catalogue.