Current projects

Grants awarded May 2022

This themed round of Archive Testbed grants encouraged services to develop projects using collections relating to past coronations and royal events to celebrate Her Majesty The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee in June 2022.

Solihull Heritage and Local Studies

Solihull Council said: ‘We are really excited to have been awarded a grant from The National Archives’ Testbed Fund. This will allow us to pilot the use of virtual reality alongside documents and images from Solihull Council’s archives in nostalgia and reminiscence events. Solihull Libraries manages the borough’s historic records through its Heritage & Local Studies Service. We are delighted to be able to bring together the archive resources with new technology and our local community to celebrate the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee in a creative and innovative way, reflecting on the changes that have seen Solihull develop over the last 70 years from an Urban District to today’s vibrant Metropolitan Borough.’

Trafford Local Studies Centre

‘The Trafford Local Studies Centre is thrilled to receive funding from the Archives Testbed Fund. The awarded funding will go towards a project that aims to drastically extend our archive display programme, by placing Jubilee and Coronation-themed archive displays in each of Trafford’s libraries, as well as within Trafford’s residential neighbourhoods. We hope that this project will enable us to reach new audiences, test new ways of engaging with our communities, and maximise the visibility of our service. This project is a new and exciting way for us to bring our archives to life. Each local library will receive a selection of original archive material pertaining to a historic coronation or jubilee celebration to go on display. Trafford’s neighbourhoods will also benefit with historic images from Jubilee street party celebrations being displayed on lamppost banners in the neighbourhoods where they were taken. QR codes will link these banners back to our department website, where a full Jubilee exhibition and contemporary collecting programme will encourage residents to learn more and get involved in the programme. We’re excited to see the impact this project will have, and the meaningful connections we’ll make with our residents!’ – Meghan MacGabhann, Local Studies and Archives Manager, Trafford Local Studies Centre

Bromley Historic Collections

‘Bromley Historic Collections is thrilled to have been awarded a grant from the Archives Testbed Fund. With the money provided, we will be able to embark on a project to create 3D interactive versions of our exhibitions, which will significantly increase their reach, allowing us to connect with new audiences and a wider section of our community. Our aim is to be able to provide an immersive, engaging and interactive experience for an audience beyond the people who can visit our exhibitions in situ, to reach parts of the community we couldn’t reach before, and to tell the story of the history of Bromley to as many people as possible.’ – Rob Faulkner, Senior Archivist, Bromley Historic Collections

London Borough of Sutton Archives

As part of the borough’s Jubilee celebrations to mark 70 years of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, this dual-site exhibition ‘Jubilee: Celebrating 70 Years’ and a programme of activities will take a wide-angle look at how Sutton has participated in marking key moments in the succession of monarchs from 1838 to the present day, with a particular focus on Queen Elizabeth II’s Coronation and Jubilee events. The exhibition will provide both a visual celebration of the Platinum Jubilee and a space for members of the public to share memories, to learn about past local community responses to royal anniversaries, and to come and spend leisure time with friends and family over the extended Jubilee weekend and beyond. As well as showcasing images and objects from our heritage and archive collections, the exhibition will also invite visitors to reflect on what 70 years of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign may mean to them, both culturally and personally.

‘We are delighted that The National Archives has awarded Sutton an Archive Testbed grant under their Collaborate and Innovate funding programme, which will enable us reach wider audiences and engage with more vulnerable members of our community, who would not ordinarily access our collections. Archives and heritage have an important role to play in community wellbeing and we are pleased to have the support of The National Archives in developing this potential.’ – Jan Underhill, Assistant Director, Wellbeing, for London Borough of Sutton

Plymouth Archives

The archive team at The Box in Plymouth will be researching and developing a Jubilee-themed package of digital archival content that can be used by multiple organisations or individuals over the Jubilee celebration period. Photographic collections and material from the largest regional moving image archive in the UK – the South West Film and Television Archive – will be made available to all. A physical display of Jubilee-themed archives will be on show in The Box’s Active Archives gallery and a two-minute film will be produced for the Media Lab gallery. On the weekend of the Jubilee itself, The Box will have live music and refreshments for visitors in order to celebrate and promote the project. In addition, there will be a Jubilee photography competition with prizes for the best submissions, all of which will become part of the archive for the future.

‘We really like the thought of this becoming a model for us for the future. While we’re doing our own research into our collections, we can make the same content available to anyone who’s interested. We’re surrounded by students and digital creatives so it should be great to see what they come up with!’ – Louisa Blight, Collections Manager at The Box

Harrow Local History Collection and Archive

Headstone Manor and Museum is home to Harrow’s history and has many exhibitions, both permanent and temporary, highlighting the rich and varied stories of the London Borough of Harrow. The museum has been home to the Harrow Local History Collection and Archive for many years and, while the archive has been used to support previous exhibitions, there has been no archive-specific display in the museum. This Archive Testbed grant will support our first archival exhibition in our dedicated Local History Room inside the museum. ‘Harrow’s Jubilees: It’s all in the details’ is an exhibition focused on using archives to illuminate the past. What goes into our celebrations for jubilees? How do we know what happened? Have we always done things the same way? The exhibition will consist of a number of interesting archives from the collection about historic jubilees. We plan to provide digital content and programming to accompany our physical exhibition. We also hope visitors will add their own Jubilee celebration stories when they come to visit.

‘We are grateful to receive this Archive Testbed grant for the Jubilee round. Our intention is for this to be the first archive exhibition of many, allowing the community to come and engage with their history in a new way. Our archive is open by appointment for people to come and research with us, but this grant will allow us to increase accessibility to our archives as well as teach people how archives can help them discover their history and the history around them. We hope to make this space a valuable addition to the museum, one that the community benefits from and enjoys.’ – Mary Brown, Archivist at Headstone Manor and Museum

People’s Heritage Cooperative

‘Paganel Archives after-school team will support and document the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations in Stechford including a street party and working with community group Shades of Black, arts organisation Friction Arts and Stechford primary schools. Paganel Primary School is the first, and only, state primary school with an ARCHON-registered repository archive and has been maintained with the People’s Heritage Co-operative since it started in 2012. Paganel Archive after-school team previously digitised images from Birmingham Archives and Heritage that were used in a range of creative ways to explore our relationship with the Royal family for the Diamond Jubilee celebrations in 2012. We will revisit the Paganel Archives’ own collections and develop activities that document our community, community champions like Mrs McGhie-Belgrave MBE from Shades of Black, and our relationship with the Queen using artwork, film and photography. This project builds on the success that Paganel Archives has had in engaging with a school community. It’s a great opportunity to test the use of archives with young people, to develop a sense of community, and to document Her Majesty’s Platinum Jubilee in Birmingham.’ – Richard Albutt, Chair, People’s Heritage Co-operative

Girlguiding Norfolk County Archives

As the national celebrations for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee get closer and we are all learning more about the Queen and her incredible legacy, we appreciate that there are lots of people who have never realised that Princess Elizabeth became a Guide in 1937 as part of her preparations for her future as Queen. Girlguiding Norfolk is very excited to have the opportunity to find more stories of the Queen as a Girl Guide, as a Sea Ranger and then, and still to this day, the Patron of Girlguiding. We are very appreciative of The National Archives who have agreed to supporting our project through their Archives Testbed Fund.

‘Royal stories can be found in Girlguiding Norfolk’s Archive Resource Centre located at Coltishall. This centre is unique in the UK and we are so excited to make the most of celebrating the Jubilee to as wide an audience as possible by creating a Royal Time Travelling exhibition, illustrating a timeline of Her Majesty’s guiding life. We are preparing to show this in a range of locations throughout Norfolk from June to September, and will have an accompanying brochure, activities and badges to help bring the guiding experience to life and highlight how it continues to be relevant to girls today.’ – Helen Green, Girlguiding Norfolk County Archivist

St Helens Archive Service

St Helens Archive Service will be digitising previously unseen photographic collections and producing a pop-up banner exhibition to celebrate the Platinum Jubilee, featuring images of Queen Elizabeth on her various visits to St Helens. Her Majesty visited the borough three times: once in 1954 as part of her coronation tour, again in 1961 as the first outside guest to view the new float glass process at Pilkington Glass, and thirdly in 1977 as part of the Silver Jubilee tour. This exhibition will be toured throughout the borough at various library events. Hundreds of historic photographic negatives are now being digitised, made accessible and can be enjoyed by a greater number of people thanks to the Archive Testbed Fund.

Grants awarded March 2022

University College London

This project is a collaboration between UCL Special Collections and the UCL Art Collections team to explore whether it is possible to automate and streamline the due diligence process for third-party copyright in archive collections and manage the resulting documentation more effectively. The project will build on a pilot developed by the Art Museum and will use two case studies: a sample of the correspondence section of the George Orwell Archive held by UCL Special Collections, and the Stanley Spencer postcard album held by the UCL Art Museum.

Archive copyright legislation is complex, its application is time-consuming, and there is often a duplication of effort. This project aims to investigate how these processes might be made more efficient and how this might be supported with readily available technical solutions. It will create a database of rights-holders and automated consent forms, as well as written case studies and a report into findings and next steps. It will also investigate the differences and similarities of the copyright requirements of archives and museums and clarify what might be undertaken as a joint enterprise. Ultimately, the aim is to streamline access for researchers.

‘We are delighted to receive this funding from the Archives Testbed Fund. This proposal has the potential to transform a complex procedure by automating and streamlining significant parts of the process. This is a novel approach to an existing problem and has no precedent that we know of. It repurposes existing technologies and is unique in the way it brings together different expertise within UCL.’ – Sarah Aitchison, Head of UCL Special Collections

Newcastle University Special Collections

‘We are delighted to have been awarded a grant by the Archives Testbed Fund. This will enable us to work with in collaboration with teachers, academics, the National Civil War Centre and the English-Speaking Union to explore how archives and museums can be used to support the teaching of A-level History and the development of students’ oracy skills. We are really looking forward to getting started on this exciting and engaging project!’ – Jill Taylor-Roe, Director of Academic Services and University Librarian, Newcastle University

Writing on the Wall

Writing on the Wall (WoW) is an arts charity that was established in 2000. WoW’s creative heritage model helps communities to discover and document hidden histories through activities designed to develop archiving skills and inspire creative work. WoW’s unique approach to heritage encourages collaboration between a diverse group of professional archivists, academics, writers, community activists, volunteers and the public as project participants. This Archives Testbed grant will allow WoW to employ an assistant to work at the archives, looking into two important collection from anti-¬racist organisations active in the 1980s, central to the defence and empowerment of Liverpool’s communities.

WoW will look to employ an assistant from the local community as people are more likely to engage when communities see themselves in a workforce or represented in collections. This will help engage the local community and use local connections to attract volunteers who may not be reached through traditional archive volunteer recruitment processes. The flexible outcome of the post will give an individual the opportunity to experience and move into the heritage sector, as well as ensuring cataloguing decisions are informed by the communities that created the documents.

WoW are the Liverpool City Region’s Arts Organisation, recognised as ‘Outstanding’ by Arts Council England for their commitment to diversity. This Archives Testbed funding will allow the assistant to be widely exposed to the arts and heritage sector, and will provide opportunities for learning and feedback to help the sector continue its work around diversity and representation.

Brent Museum and Archive

2024 marks the centenary of the British Empire Exhibition, a colonial exhibition that was held in Wembley Park. This Archives Testbed grant will allow Brent Museum and Archives to explore support for staff training and community engagement in decolonising the collections in Brent.

Stephanie Wilson, Library Arts and Heritage Manager, said: ‘We want to look at the processes and methods we can use to open honest dialogues and create space for Brent’s diverse communities to come together, be listened to, and collaborate in shaping the centenary event and the Brent Museum and Archive collections.’

The project will engage creatives and historians who can work with the team at Brent to help build confidence and skills in holding these conversations, connecting with people around the history of empire and exploring its legacy today. Through this work, Brent Museum and Archives hope to build trust in their heritage service to meaningfully represent the stories of the borough and ensure community members have a greater stake and influence in the work to preserve and share these stories more widely.

Grants awarded December 2021

This themed round of Archive Testbed grants encouraged services to develop projects relating to the 1920s to coincide with our 20sPeople programme and the release of the 1921 Census for England and Wales.

Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre

The Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre, located in Chippenham, has historic collections relating to gardens and gardening from its eight miles of archives. This will be used to promote and encourage physical and mental wellbeing through gardening. A great way for people to do this would be by participating in the community garden that is soon to be installed in the History Centre grounds, or by doing various activities in your own garden or allotment, all inspired by growing heritage plants and vegetables.

Activities will include talks and workshops on historic gardening and information on growing heritage vegetables, including ‘starter garden’ packets of heritage seeds. The project will explore historic uses of plants and vegetables for culinary and medicinal purposes, and they will create an interpretation panel for the community garden when it is developed.

There will be opportunities for a wide range of people to be involved, from beginners to experienced gardeners. Participants could do anything from growing something in a window-box or trying different vegetable varieties in the garden to creating a new garden. These are activities you can do on your own or as part of a group. With the 1921 census now available for family and local historians, the project will particularly look at 1920s gardens and planting schemes, while also digging deeper into the archives to feature other decades.

Councillor Richard Clewer, Leader of Wiltshire Council and Cabinet Member for Heritage, said: ‘We’re delighted to be awarded this funding as the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre has rich historic collections relating to gardens and gardening from its eight miles of archives. This funding will be used to promote the many physical and mental wellbeing benefits of gardening through a variety of interesting and exciting ways, and we’re very much looking forward to working with the community on it – from experienced gardeners to budding beginners looking to learn more.’

Hampshire Archives and Local Studies / Wessex Film and Sound Archive

Hampshire Archives and Local Studies (HALS) and Wessex Film and Sound Archive (WFSA) are seeking to ensure their collections better represent their communities, and also to improve engagement with those communities. We have been working with members of Hampshire County Council’s Black Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) staff network to look at ways to address these challenges.

The Archives Testbed funding will enable the service to pilot two strands of work. One is around family history, with volunteers recruited by BAME colleagues investigating their family history in HALS’ collections. This will encourage contact from communities who may not currently see themselves reflected in the archives and also help archives staff to become confident in answering enquiries from and about them. This will help us to build networks with those communities to ensure ongoing engagement and deposit of material in the future.

The other strand focuses on increasing the visibility of early women filmmakers in our collections. Our newly-acquired cinefilm scanner will help us to open up our collections for further investigation and to improve our knowledge and catalogues of amateur film footage. The results of this pilot may provide ideas for other archives looking to tackle uncertainty and gain understanding of how to unlock archives and to help shape future work. It will also demonstrate how catalogues and collections can be revisited to surface new information and challenge traditional assumptions.

University of Leicester

‘A century of student life’ will pilot the use of micro-volunteering to engage a wider range of students with our 1920s University Archives. The National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) has defined ‘micro-volunteering’ as ‘bite-size volunteering with no commitment to repeat and with minimum formality, involving short and specific actions that are quick to start and complete’. The approach contrasts with traditional forms of volunteering used in archive services, which often involve a regular and ongoing commitment of time over a period of weeks, months or even years.

Our project will test and evaluate how micro-volunteering can reduce barriers to engagement with archives by creating a series of ‘bite-size’ opportunities to connect with our collections. Through focus groups and workshops, we will co-design activities tailored to the interests and availability of our students. Activities may take place in person with physical collections, remotely but in real time through the use of digital surrogates, or at different times to suit the preferences of participants. We will explore how this approach can improve how archives are preserved and discovered, and how it can enhance and diversify our archives through creative activities such as life-writing, photography, or vlogging. Capturing the lessons learned and opportunities for the future will be a central feature of the project. A freelance evaluator will be commissioned to work alongside the project team to conduct a thorough evaluation.

‘The 1920s Archives Testbed round comes as we are celebrating our centenary year at the University of Leicester’, explains Dr Simon Dixon, Head of Archives and Special Collections. ‘We were founded as a ‘living memorial’ to the First World War, opening to our first students in October 1921. A century later, we are excited to have this opportunity to use the grant from The National Archives to engage our diverse student population with our archives from 100 years ago. If successful, our project will offer an alternative model for engaging new audiences with archives that requires less time commitment than traditional volunteering.’

Archives: Wigan and Leigh

The National Archives has awarded a grant to Wigan Council to support a project from the Wigan Youth Cabinet. The project is supported by Archives: Wigan & Leigh and will mark the centenary of the Leigh School Children’s Trip to London. Using records from the trip, the Youth Cabinet will create a display in Leigh Town Hall that examines life for young people in the 1920s and compares this with their lives now.

The National Archives funding will allow the display to be expanded to include a film, as well as an interactive element in the display and a dedicated webpage. The Youth Cabinet work is also being supported by the National Heritage Lottery Fund which provided Archives: Wigan & Leigh with £1.3 million to revamp its facilities at Leigh Town Hall.

Bristol Archives

Urban populations, adjusting to life after the war and the pandemic, flocked to popular entertainment venues in the 1920s. Across cities like Bristol, the pre-war boom in cinema-building re-started at pace, leading to scores of venues opening and operating in the town centre and out across the newly expanding suburbs. As we begin to adjust to the ‘new normal’ and return to cultural spaces again, it feels timely to celebrate the optimism and innovation of 1920s cinema by providing a glimpse of the former glory of these sites via the smartphones in our pockets.

Our testbed project aims to build a nimble augmented reality (AR) app, used via Instagram, to view the original designs of cinemas in situ in our city streets. The test process will focus not just on the technical build, in partnership with Zubr Virtual Reality Ltd, but trial the optimum ways to promote usage. We will test a number of ‘ways in’ to launching the app, ranging from the GIS-enabled Know Your Place website to QR codes located on streets and shop windows.

‘We are delighted to receive this testbed grant to enable us to utilise our extensive building plan collections at Bristol Archives. If successful, the product has potential to be used for any number of urban spaces or building types where detailed plans survive. This is particularly pertinent to Bristol City Council’s current work on rejuvenating high streets across the city, using cultural/historical material to animate spaces.’ – Ray Barnett, Head of Collections, Bristol Museums and Archives

‘We can’t wait to experiment with using AR to reveal lost, local cinema architecture in Bristol. Augmented reality is a powerful tool and we’re excited to use it in combination with Bristol Archives’ rich collections. Together we hope to transform familiar locations to their previous configurations and give Bristolians insight into the history hidden all around them.’– Amy Spreadbury, Heritage Project Manager, Zubr Ltd.

Eastside Community Heritage

Eastside Community Heritage (ECH) is very excited to have been awarded an Archive Testbed grant from The National Archives. This is ground-breaking for us and will transform how our unique, social history archives, containing the experiences of Londoners and those living and working in the surrounding areas. can be accessed by all. This funding will enable ECH to test out developing an online platform for accessing and searching our vast and diverse collections of oral histories, photos, exhibitions, and videos via the use of open reach solutions.

This is a real game-changer not only for Eastside Community Heritage, but for all those in the small and community archive sector. Many existing system solutions are designed for bigger organisations, and don’t take into account the needs or available resources of smaller archives. ECH holds accounts of social history that cannot be accessed anywhere else and is keen to find a workable solution to enable greater digital accessibility for audiences now, as well as conserving them for all those to come in the future.

Jewish Music Institute

The Jewish Music Institute (JMI) is the home of Jewish music in the UK. They are dedicated to the celebration, preservation and development of the living heritage of Jewish music for the benefit of people of all ages and backgrounds. The JMI archive contains precious audio and film recordings in tape cassette, VHS, CD and record format, as well as books, manuscripts, essays, concert posters and other merchandise containing real and sentimental value to the organisation as well as to Jewish music academics and enthusiasts. The archive contains material written or recorded in English, Polish, French, German, Yiddish and Hebrew.

The grant will allow the conversion of a historic database into a modern format, making the JMI archive accessible and user friendly, consistent with modern archive software and part of a recognised network. It will show how data that has been so outmoded it is unusable can be repurposed to allow the public to enjoy an incredibly rich and diverse treasure trove of Jewish music, manuscripts, CDs, records, concert programmes, newsletters, posters and photographs. This project is an exemplar of the fact that archives need not be abandoned just because their current condition is in need of updating.

Grants awarded April 2021

Bath and Colonialism Archive Project

The Bath and Colonialism Archive Project is a six-month research project which brings together the archives of Bath Abbey, Bath Preservation Trust and the Bath Record Office. Working with volunteers, the three organisations will analyse digitised copies of the Bath Chronicle newspaper from the 18th century to explore primary evidence of Bath’s links to the transatlantic slave trade and the history of a Black presence in the city. Since the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests and the increasing awareness of colonialism’s legacy today, the partner organisations feel there is an urgent need to share a more inclusive history of the Bath World Heritage Site. They will work with consultants with inclusivity expertise to make the data available through a dedicated website. The project will also create guidance on how to communicate information with honesty and sensitivity and the recommendations will then be shared with other archives nationally.

‘This project is about learning from and positively addressing our city’s past and the groundswell of public concern prompted by the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020.  It offers a significant opportunity for heritage organisations in Bath to work together and help make historic evidence of the Georgian city’s links with the transatlantic slave trade more accessible to people.’ – The Revd Canon Guy Bridgewater (Rector of Bath Abbey), Claire Dixon (Director of Museums and Deputy Chief Executive, Bath Preservation Trust) and Stephen Bird (Head of Heritage Services, Bath & North East Somerset Council)

Gloucestershire Archives

Our testbed project aims to diversify our collections, our audience and our workforce by commissioning black community leaders to gather or create material to preserve in the archives.  This will address gaps in our holdings, raise visibility of the service among this key audience and ensure black voices are heard by posterity.  The material which the community gatherers present is likely to be digital. This will provide hard data which can inform future planning and will allow us to further develop our digital curation processes. Reciprocal mentoring will help those involved to work together to overcome barriers.

‘We are absolutely delighted to receive this money which enables us to build on the mutual trust and respect gained through co-creating heritage events with local black practitioners. If successful, our pilot will offer a model which can be adopted by other archive services, building resilience within the sector as a whole.’ – Heather Forbes, Head of Gloucestershire Archives

Bethlem Museum of the Mind

Bethlem Museum of the Mind will use its grant to fund an online version of the Change Minds project. In this project, museum and archive professionals will give online access to the records of Bethlem Hospital and explore the lives of the people treated there with a group of present-day service users at the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust (SLaM). The project will start in autumn 2021, and participants will produce an exhibition of their work and artistic responses to the lives they uncover.

‘I am delighted to announce news of this generous grant from The National Archives. The Change Minds project brings the museum closer to the community of service users of the present day hospital, and allows us to investigate the history of the hospital through the lens of those treated there.’ Colin Gale, Director of the Bethlem Museum of the Mind

University of East London

This project represents a collaboration between the University of East London (UEL) Archives and Moi Tran, a Vietnamese/Chinese artist based in East London. Through her work, Moi Tran aims to explore creative methods to disturb and challenge traditional archives usage and structure, including taking agency in narrative as activism, promoting conventionally subjugated knowledge systems through archival processes and to explore contemporary arts practice in a community archive.

This project will explore innovative new ways of archiving community history and narratives through live performance. It will consider how multiple elements can be utilised to form an open creative witnessing of underrepresented narratives and enable new forms of representation within the archive for these communities.

The project aim is to utilise the archive as a portal to celebrate alternative modes of knowledge making through lived experience in the diaspora. Moi Tran also aims to create an anecdotal set of archives, which will include overlooked materials – records usually omitted from conventional archives – to activate and to take agency of the South East Asian/East Asian lived experience and narratives.

This Archive Testbed project will help to test and evolve a new process for community archiving and engagement initially with the South East Asian/East Asian community in East London and, if successful, could act as a template for future community outreach and engagement. The project will explore alternative methodologies for how we engage with underrepresented communities and enable us to consider and develop new research on how to research, design and populate a community-focused participatory archive collection and curation, which will act to both empower local communities as well as enabling academic research and engagement with the materials across disciplinary boundaries here at UEL.

Northumbria University

Northumbria University, in partnership with The Heritage Resilience Network and several local cultural organisations and individuals in the North East, is considering developing a (Multi)Cultural Archive and Resource Centre at the university. The aim of such a centre would be to document and support the long history of Black and minority-led cultural and community activism in the North East. It is envisioned as a resource for students, academics, and communities in the region.

This grant will assist the partnership in conducting a series of workshops to inspect and debate the aspirations involved in this idea, especially foregrounding the desires and contributions of Black and minoritised community members. The sessions will consider the motivations and the organisational changes required, and will hopefully result in a proposal or feasibility study for the university. The workshops will draw together a range of stakeholders inside the university, those within regional Black and minoritised ethnic communities, and experts from the Black and community archives networks in the UK.

‘It is not just about the archives as an object. The project needs to be an instrument… in bringing about changes in terms of impact and how it does that, and the extent to which the university will invest in this.’ – Partnership member

Special Collections and Galleries, Leeds University Library

‘It is fundamental to gain an enhanced understanding of how biases and suppression manifest in catalogues of legacy collections and to make these collections more accessible. Whilst there has been considerable focus on digitising these and other materials, much of the problematic language associated with the records remains, leaving barriers to engagement which cut across class, ethnicity, and nationality. The project is relevant to researchers across a large range of disciplines, especially in the arts, humanities and social sciences, and for librarians, archivists and curators. We are delighted to be working in partnership across the Leeds Arts and Humanities Research Institute (LAHRI) and the University Library to co-produce this research and disseminate findings both within and beyond Leeds.’ –  Joanne Fitton (Head of Special Collections & Galleries, Leeds University Library) and Jamie Stark (Director, Leeds Arts & Humanities Research Institute)

Grants awarded January 2021

East Anglian Film Archive, University of East Anglia

The East Anglian Film Archive (EAFA), in partnership with The University of East Anglia’s (UEA) School of Education have launched a pilot project exploring the way teachers present and frame archive clips in online teaching sessions, both live (on MS Teams/Zoom) and pre-recorded. It will support and encourage the use of archive film within online resources and provide step-by-step support for teachers.

Teachers will be encouraged to use links to films rather than embedding a digital file into a resource. An output of the project will be a digital toolkit which will be shared with teachers and the archive sector. The project brings together expertise from Dr John Gordon (Director of Research, UEA School of Education) and the East Anglian Film Archive. The East Anglian Film Archive’s extensive collections of film, video and born­digital content, covering the 1890s to the present, are a valuable resource for academics, postdoctoral researchers and educators working across a range of disciplines. Around 200 hours of film from EAFA’s collection can be viewed on the EAFA website.

EAFA’s Academic Director, Dr Tim Snelson, commented that ‘The East Anglian Film Archive is delighted to be partnering with UEA’s School of Education on this innovative project investigating the most effective uses of archival clips in teaching. This project is a timely and important intervention when the ongoing educational and social disruptions caused by Covid-19 have highlighted the importance of digital access and engagement with cultural resources.’

Wolverhampton City Archives

The Wolverhampton’s Voices project aims to make Wolverhampton City Archives’ (WCA) oral history available to a wider audience, by exploring ways to make the collections more readily available online or virtually, alongside onsite access at the archives. The project will focus on three fascinating collections: the Black and Ethnic Minority Experience project (BEME), the Wolverhampton LGBT History Project, and the Way We Are: Women of Wolverhampton (WOW) project. This Archives Testbed project will bring archives to a wider audience and will help the archives become more representative of the communities they serve.

Rather than oral history being a separate entity, this project aims for a more holistic approach, fully integrating the material into all elements of WCA’s remit. This includes incorporating it into every exhibition, and building it into work with schools and community groups. The project will include a robust digital preservation strategy, giving confidence to future oral history projects that they can deposit their material. They will know that these voices will still be heard, whatever media they were originally recorded on, for generations to come. Unlocking the potential of these resources will make a significant impact to the local communities of Wolverhampton.

Cabinet Member for City Economy, Councillor Stephen Simkins said, ‘I am delighted that Wolverhampton City Archives have received the funding so that we can capture the voices of the city. The Wolverhampton Voices Project will make a significant impact on the local communities of Wolverhampton and ensure the city’s stories are available for future generations.’

The Mills Archive Trust

The Mills Archive Trust has been awarded an Archives Testbed grant to test the creation and use of the ‘Archiving @ Home Hub’. This digital facility will enable people around the country to volunteer remotely to catalogue and transcribe material and enrich the trust’s digital offering.

Changes to ways of working in response to Covid-19 have provided the trust with the opportunity to re-think how they engage and involve the public and how they make information freely available. Lessons learned during the project will be shared with other archives, whose teams may also be considering the opportunity offered by volunteers from a distance.

Director Liz Bartram, said, ’Thanks to this grant from The National Archives, the trust will benefit from a wider range of volunteer support and contributions, and we will gain a better understanding of our holdings. With more content discoverable online and greater awareness of the effort involved in preserving records, we hope that more people will become supporters of heritage and archives’.

Explore York Libraries and Archives

Explore York Libraries and Archives will be partnering with Bright White Ltd, one of the UK’s leading heritage interpretation companies, to create a next-generation digital engagement tool. The Explore Archives Storytelling Tool (EAST) will re-shape archive data to enable new linear and non-linear stories to be told. By using a strict geographical boundary to define a cross-section of digital archives, the project team will create a prototype tool, testing and evaluating with two key audiences in the city.

The tool will allow the data to be queried and presented in new interactive ways, enabling users to choose their own story. Although this project will be tightly defined, it has the potential to be expanded across the city of York and beyond. The project team will disseminate the outcomes as a case study to both the creative/tech sector and the archive sector via online webinars.

Barbara Swinn, Strategic Development Manager at Explore York Libraries and Archives, said ‘Explore Archives contain a treasure trove of the stories of the people of York, how they lived, worked and played. Telling these stories has the potential to provide a strong sense of place and connection to the community and wider world. We are thrilled to be partnering with Bright White to create an online tool that will engage people in those stories and we look forward to the learning experience that this partnership will bring.’

Grants awarded November 2020

Royal Botanic Gardens

Partnering with the University of Roehampton and drawing on their expertise, the Royal Botanic Gardens aim to build a model with which the archive sector can use volunteer-driven, remote methods to transcribe and research their collections, and make them easily shareable and accessible using TEI-XML encoding. Although archives regularly work remotely and with volunteers, few have used the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI). By working collaboratively with the university sector, they seek to embed TEI into the archive sector, in a way that could be managed by archivists with little experience of textual encoding or time to carry out encoding themselves. At Kew, they will test this model by working with University of the Third Age to transcribe the Record Book, which records living plant material exchanges between Kew and other organisations and individuals around the world between 1793 and 1809.

The project will unlock for further research the data contained in this first volume and establish a proof of concept for the rest of the volumes in a sequence which continues to the 1920s. Royal Botanic Gardens will build a community and provide a model of engaging with and developing the digital capacity of older people remotely, who have particularly felt the impact of social isolation during the Covid-19 pandemic, whilst the Covid-19 restrictions have meant that many institutions can no longer accommodate volunteers on site. Thus the project will deliver the twin benefits of unlocking collections for research and finding new ways to engage with the public.

‘We are delighted to have received this grant, which will enable us to test new ways of liberating the information held in our historic records, both for Kew and, if successful, the wider archive sector. This exciting project is particularly timely as it will provide a model of working with volunteers remotely and with a sector of society that has been particularly impacted by Covid-19 restrictions.’ – Richard Deverell, Director at Royal Botanic Gardens Kew.

Archives and Cornish Studies Service

The work to prepare collections for the move to Kresen Kernow in 2019 highlighted the richness of the audio-visual material that the archive service had acquired over the past 60 years.  It also revealed the gaps in our information, and subsequent limitation on use. With the Archives Testbed grant, the service will deliver a project to develop and test a rights diligence search process for a selection of these recordings, acting as a catalyst to open up these collections to a wider set of development aims.

Archives and Cornish Studies Service has been inspired to focus on this material by the ‘Unlocking our Sound Heritage’ project, run by the British Library and funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. The project is digitising hundreds of Kresen Kernow’s items, and, more locally, Cornwall Museum Partnership are trialling the use of sound archives with AI to deliver wellbeing outcomes for isolated communities. The Archive Testbed grant is the first step towards making more digital engagement projects with our material possible.

‘We are delighted to have been awarded the grant as these collections have so much potential.  We will use the funding to trial the process on a varied sample of items to understand what the different challenges and solutions are, working with organisations across Cornwall to use local knowledge and networks to uncover information about collections and their rights holders.’ – Deborah Tritton, Kresen Kernow Project Lead

Grants awarded August 2020

University of Reading

This project will be led by the University of Reading Special Collections and the Museum of English Rural Life, in collaboration with the University of Glasgow. As its starting point, the project takes the challenges posed by the archive of the filmmaker Stephen Dwoskin – a hybrid archive that includes 20 hard disk drives. The size and nature of the digital archive is challenging and the organisation needs to develop different ways to enable access, research and exploration. Such collections are often accessioned and catalogued in collaboration with their creators, but Dwoskin passed away in 2012 and so a forensic process has been followed. The resultant ‘disk images’ contain a vast amount of data in many formats, especially film footage, while the forensic process has generated additional metadata.

This project will explore how the data and metadata in a catalogue can be represented in a way that works for users and is straightforward to implement. In particular, the project will look at how to use visualisations, cross-reference between analogue and born-digital content, help users to navigate the material, deploy relevant tools and benchmark the archive’s work. The project aims to test practical solutions for any archivists facing the challenge of personal digital and hybrid archives. The team also hopes that the project will demonstrate what is possible when a professional archive team sets out to learn and develop new skills.

SHARP Digital Photographic Archive Project

The Sedgeford Historical and Archaeological Research Project (SHARP) carried out excavations of an Anglo-Saxon cemetery at Sedgeford, a small town in Norfolk, from 1996 to 2007. Hundreds of volunteers worked on the site, which was also open to the public and welcomed thousands of visitors. As with many archaeological projects, using information generated in the past for current research led to the discovery of gaps and unanswered questions. This prompted an idea: could the project use excavation photographs donated by the site’s volunteers and visitors to overcome challenges encountered in post-excavation analysis and research?

This project will explore this question and investigate whether such a photograph collection can contribute to interpretations regarding the use of the site over time, specifically in relation to data for disarticulated human bone. It will consider the practicalities of employing photogrammetry within this research approach as well as the feasibility of using this technique to bring the archive ‘back to life’ in 3D. The findings will be shared widely with organisations within the heritage sector and other public and community archaeology groups.

‘We are thrilled to be granted funding from The National Archives’ Archive Testbed Fund. We are excited to see what archaeological questions this project can help us answer. SHARP is unable to run its annual excavation season this summer due to the unprecedented pandemic so this project is a great way for people to stay engaged with archaeology by remote participation in SHARP’s activities.’ – Lorraine Horsley, Project Manager and a SHARP Supervisor in Human Remains

South West Heritage Trust

The South West Heritage Trust will explore the possibility of offering a managed digital preservation system for small-scale archives that would otherwise be unable to implement a digital preservation solution for their collections. The trust has had a major focus on implementing their own digital preservation system in the last few years and has been approached by several smaller organisations asking about potential options for them.  This funding will enable the trust to create a digital preservation test environment and pilot options to see whether a viable and cost-effective solution can be provided. The trust will then share its learning about developing digital preservation systems with the wider archive community.

‘Digital preservation is a key area of development for many archive services and we are really pleased to have the opportunity to contribute to the sector’s ongoing learning.’ – Janet Tall, Head of Archives and Learning, Somerset Heritage Centre

Grants awarded April 2020

The Photography and the Archive Research Centre, University of the Arts London

The Photography and the Archive Research Centre (PARC) at UAL will use their grant to ensure that the digital archive of the Directory of Photographic Collections created by PARC in the 2000s can be better cared for in the long term, and made more accessible.  Through a joint project with the Photographic Collections Network (PCN), there will also be workshops with curators, researchers and the public to test ways of working with and updating the digital archive, in an aim for it to become the foundation for a new long-term programme towards mapping the UK’s photographic collections.

‘It’s incredibly exciting to be granted funding from The National Archives to work with this important digital archive, to preserve it for the present, and develop it for the future’ – Brigitte Lardinois, Acting Director, Photography & The Archive Research Centre, London College of Communications, University of the Arts London

‘This funding and collaboration enables us to work with an important archive, the sector, and the public to explore how we can develop the Directory of Photographic Collections and make it accessible to everyone.’ – Debbie Cooper, Manager, Photographic Collections Network

Barclays Group Archives

Barclays Group Archives has been awarded a grant to explore the use of Linked Open Data (LOD) to semantically tag text and images from a 19th-century bank customer signature book. The book, from Goslings and Sharpe of Fleet Street, contains the signatures of thousands of account holders from 1832 to 1896.  In addition to their signatures it also often lists their address, their occupation, and their referee (all new customers had to be recommended by an existing customer). Barclays Group Archives, in partnership with University of Liverpool PhD student, Ashleigh Hawkins, will use an open-source semantic annotation tool, Recogito, on a sample section of the signature book to develop a proof of concept for an alternative way of publishing historic customer information online.

‘We know these records contain a wealth of information.  The data relating to addresses, occupations and relationships between customers has potential for use far beyond the confines of banking history. We want to investigate the possibilities this technology presents for providing digital access to this historic nominal information.’ – Maria Sienkiewicz, Group Archivist at Barclays

University College London Special Collections

This exciting project will see UCL Special Collections test the use of XR (Augmented and Virtual Reality) technology to engage diverse audiences with archival material. The team will be working with an external developer with the hope of bringing something unique and of high value to young people’s experience of archives through the use of XR: the chance to engage with primary resources in an almost-first-hand and highly innovative way. The project will take the first steps in exploring whether XR can be an effective vehicle through which to bring collection items into the classroom, both in a literal way (allowing pupils to turn pages in books, pick up documents and open envelopes) and in immersive, theatrical ways (perhaps in dramatic performances or the replication of relevant environments). Learning outcomes from this project will be shared via the UCL Special Collections’ blog and the UCL Special Collection’s BOOC (Book as Open Online Content) entitled ‘Paper Trails’.

Oldham Local Studies and Archives

Personalise the Past is a digital scrapbook project, which will engage with a community group to create 10 digital scrapbooks that will challenge perceptions of what archives are. The project will test out a straight-forward way of researching and gathering material relevant to individuals. It will provide a way of presenting individual’s stories and archives in a way that is both creative and personal. The project will give people a way of sharing their stories and present an opportunity for the archive to collect new stories. The project will:

  • Encourage participants to explore their own stories, utilising their own archives and our resources, and inspire others to do the same
  • Trial a new approach to researching personal stories and help us collect new stories
  • Create links with community groups and engage new online audiences by sharing stories via a social media and creating a digital challenge

How the project engages and impacts audiences will be monitored through an outcomes-based evaluation model.

‘Oldham Local Studies and Archives welcomes the opportunity of working with the National Archives Testbed Project. The project will enable us to explore new ways of capturing and presenting the stories of Oldham and is people which will be great benefit when we move into the new Heritage and Arts Centre.’ – Roger Ivens, Local Studies Officer at Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council

Marx Memorial Library & Workers’ School

The Marx Memorial Library will launch a patrons scheme. This fundraising initiative will explore ways of promoting the scheme on social media, using digital media and mobilising our collections around Lenin’s 150th birthday in this year. Using our flood appeal fundraiser as a spring-board, the project will look at how archive services might encourage one-off donors to make a longer term commitment as a friend or patron.

Meirian Jump, Archivist & Library Manager explains ‘This project would help to provide guidance for archive services who are also looking to become more resilient, with a focus on the use of digital media, engagement with collections, and developing a lasting legacy. For the Marx Memorial Library, specifically, this project could provide a major step change in our fundraising and income generation plans’.

The Wiener Holocaust Library

The Wiener Holocaust Library wants to improve public access to our collections by evolving the current on-site manual item request system into a remote online item request system. In addition, the Archive Testbed funding will also be used to explore the possibility of using online request data to help develop collections management projects. Whilst many larger organisations such as The National Archives and The British Library already offer the option of ordering items in advance, for smaller organisations this is often an unexplored area. After implementing the project, the data will be used to build a strong case study to circulate with the wider archive sector. The Wiener Holocaust Library are members of M25, Archives Hub and Knowledge Quarter, which are fantastic gateways for our case study to receive a public platform and reach other archive institutes. The case study will be published via their social media sites, newsletters and main websites. The Head of Collections is keen to create a ‘lessons learnt’ guide, to be shared with other archive institutes. It will lay bare any challenges faced in the journey and is expected to be used as a tool for other institutes inspired to take on a similar project.

Northumberland Archives

Northumberland Archives has been awarded a grant to develop an interactive digital learning platform for schools and lifelong learners. Initially the schools content will focus upon cross-curricular activity for Keys Stages 2 and 3 looking at three particular themes – crime and punishment, Stannington Children’s TB Sanatorium and World War One.

Councillor Cath Homer, Cabinet Member for Culture, Arts, Leisure and Tourism at Northumberland County Council said: ‘This is wonderful news and will allow the archive service to work closely with schools and lifelong learners in bringing to life these important subjects and history in an interactive and engaging way.’

University of Bristol Theatre Collection

In 2020, the Theatre Collection will receive its first deposit containing lidar scans of artist and performer Ian Smith’s (1959 – 2014) studio, as part of a mixed-media archive. Like many other UK archives and museums, the Theatre Collection holds audio-visual material, paper documents, physical objects and now 3D data. Solutions which work for larger institutions and those primarily focused on the care of 3D data, cannot simply be transferred to such a different context due to lack of dedicated funds, differing skillsets and the nature of a mixed collection. This Archive Testbed Grant will be used to bring together a team of experts for a three-day intensive ‘book sprint’ to develop and draft a workflow/method for the archival management of 3D scans from the point of deposit and accession through ingest, storage and access. The University of Bristol, like many archive services, is at the start of its digital preservation journey.

Julian Warren, Keeper of Digital and Live Art Archives at the Theatre Collection, says ‘This intensive testbed ‘book sprint’ will enable the Theatre Collection to gain practical experience quickly, building confidence and expertise in the archival management of complex digital files internally whilst also raising awareness of the challenges of preserving and providing access to these files externally, within the wider archive and arts sectors.’

Learning outcomes will be published in a blog post on the Theatre Collection’s website, recording learnings from the ‘google docs’ created during the ‘sprint’, detailing findings, successes and failures.  This will be promoted through the ARA, DPC and other JISC/arts/archive sector mailing lists, in order to share the experience with others who may be facing similar challenges.

Suffolk Archives

Suffolk Archives have been awarded an Archive Testbed grant to explore whether hackathons have value in capturing imagination and creativity to deliver innovation solutions. The project will pursue two key areas:

  1. To test the concept of a hackathon generating an output within the archive’s arena, but rather than the event being totally focused on technology or niche archivist solutions, the teams building the product will consist of people from the audiences we wish to reach out to, as well as coders or archivists, and importantly, it will deliver user-led solutions
  2. The partial creation of a solution that will add value by presenting linked material to search requests

The Boots Company Archive

The Boots Company archive has been awarded an Archive Testbed grant to create a new approach to teacher engagement with archives which can be shared across the archive profession. By making teachers more ‘archive savvy’, The Boots Company Archive team hope to maximise the value of online archival sources as an educational resource. This teacher guidance has the potential to change pedagogical thinking and understanding, influence teaching practice in the classrooms and impact on initial teacher education. By adopting a collaborative approach between archivists, practitioners and educational theorists, the project hopes to develop a model for archivists to adopt that will deliver more impactful and intuitive online teaching resources.

The Guardian News and Media Archive

The Guardian News & Media Archive will use the transcription platform Transkribus in a pilot project to transcribe archives written in phonetic shorthand. The archive service will digitise a sample of the notebooks of the Guardian’s first Africa correspondent, written in Pitman’s New Era shorthand. Volunteers with shorthand experience, including members of the University of the Third Age, will be invited to help transcribe the scans remotely. The project will produce useful learning outcomes around transcription software, shorthand records and remote volunteering.

Philippa Mole, Head of the GNM Archive, said ‘We’re excited about the potential of this project to open up an important collection in our archive and improve access to similar records, in our own repository and elsewhere.’

Grants awarded December 2019

Greater Manchester County Records Office

Greater Manchester County Records Office (GMCRO) will explore the use of tape systems for digital storage of archive material. The tape storage will be managed in-house by the archive service rather than outsourced to a digital preservation service. GMCRO will evaluate the viability of building and managing a digital system and securing files internally within the organisation for a fairly low cost. GMCRO will then share their learning from the testing and the evaluation with the wider archive sector to increase both knowledge of the processes and confidence to deliver a minimal digital archiving concept.

Special Collections and Archives, Templeman Library, University of Kent

Special Collections and Archives at the University of Kent will test software for machine-generated transcripts of audio recordings. They will evaluate different potential options to identify the best solution for archival use, and then develop an appropriate workflow to deliver fully searchable transcripts. The method would be tested on a collection of important lecture audio recordings held by Special Collections and Archives, and the results and lessons learned shared with the sector to enable others to deliver similar projects.

Karen Brayshaw, Head of Special Collections and Archives, said ‘We are excited to have been successful in our Testbed bid. We really believe the project has the potential to increase the value of our previously hidden audio collections exponentially. Whatever our final conclusions, we look forward to sharing our results with the archives and digitisation community.’

West Yorkshire Archive Service

The West Yorkshire Archive Service will create and test a new space for secure access to born-digital materials in the public searchroom. The archive service will test the access on a small sub-set of born digital records and evaluate what works well in this process with the aim to roll out a similar system across other searchrooms in the region. Collaborating with DALE and the DPC, West Yorkshire Archive Service will share the results of the test to aid other archive services in setting up their own digital archive public spaces.

Staffordshire Archives & Heritage

Staffordshire Archives and Heritage will pilot a new approach to their outreach activities to help them connect with hard-to-reach rural communities. A series of digital drop-in sessions will be delivered to test the feasibility and practical delivery of this type of engagement, aiming to increase the relevance of archive collections to these groups and broaden the reach of the archive service. Communities will drop in to sessions and be able to photograph or scan documents and images and receive advice on caring for collections. The success of the pilot will be evaluated and the learning shared with the archive sector, which will be of use to other archives who struggle to connect with rural and hard-to-reach audience groups.

Mountain Heritage Trust

The Mountain Heritage Trust will test a portable fundraising and information unit. The unit will contain information panels about the Trust, a promotional film that will bring their collections to life, and an inset contactless giving point to encourage donations. This project is testing the effectiveness of using contactless technology in combination with engaging film material in an archival context to improve fundraising for the Trust. A summary of the project and an analysis of the successes and failures encountered on the way will be shared with the archive sector.

Kelda Roe, Collections Manager at the Mountain Heritage Trust, said: ‘We’re excited to begin work on this project, which has the potential to both engage new audiences and raise funds to support our work preserving and sharing Britain’s mountain and climbing heritage. The Mountain Heritage Trust is very proud to be pioneering and testing this new approach to archives engagement and fundraising, and we are grateful for The National Archives’ support. We hope that there are lots of useful learning points that we can share with the wider archives profession.’

Tyne and Wear Archives

Tyne and Wear Archives will evolve some previous work from a proof-of-concept competition for digital SMEs (Small to Medium Enterprises) to solve digital archive challenges. They will use the Testbed grant to further explore using software to scan archive documents and automatically generate metadata. The software will be tested on 500 digitised ship plans, and the learning that results from the pilot will be shared widely across the sector to assist other archives looking at large-scale metadata generation projects.

Lizzy Baker, Archives Lead at the Tyne and Wear Archives, said ‘We are really excited to work on this project to explore how digital solutions can help us to improve our metadata and collections information, as well as develop new ways of working with significant collections of shipbuilding records.’

Hackney Archives

Hackney Archives will test a concept that is new for the archive service which will involve collaborating with creative thinkers outside the profession to re-imagine the searchroom and seek to overcome some of the barriers encountered when entering an archive space, including encouraging the library audience to enter the archive searchroom. The learning from the experience will be embedded into Hackney Archives’ own practice and shared with the sector through a special event, case studies and presentations to inspire other archives to experiment with searchroom solutions and engage with their non-users.

Tahlia Coombs, Heritage Manager at Hackney Archives, said ‘We are thrilled to have successfully secured the funding for our project. Our searchroom space has amazing potential but is not currently the shared community space we would like it to be. The Testbed fund will give us the opportunity to collaborate with creative thinkers to change this and we are really excited about what this will mean for our service. We are also eager to share our learning with others in the sector and hope that our project will contribute to the work we are all doing to remove barriers to archives.’

The National Gallery Research Centre

The National Gallery Research Centre will explore how data in the stock books of art dealer Thos. Agnew and Sons can be presented and used in innovative ways across multiple research disciplines. They will use network analysis to transform the flat imagery into a strategic data resource, with the potential to increase engagement with the collection and stimulate further research questions and topics. The learning from the project will be shared widely in the archive and research sector, adding to the growing understanding of the use of this innovative method of engaging with digitised resources.