Archives Unlocked

Our ambitious strategic vision for the archives sector, Archives Unlocked, focuses on the needs and potential of archives across the country, and realises in practical and tangible terms their unique relevance in preserving the diversity of our nation’s heritage.

The vision and the priorities that emerge from it are the result of extensive consultation and development work with the archives sector, our partners and beyond.

Our strategic priorities 2020-22

We are pleased to publish our strategic priorities for the archives sector for 2020-22 below. These will be soon be accompanied by more granular work plans for each team within Archives Sector Development. Separating our more strategic, longer-term priorities from descriptions of specific pieces of work will allow us to provide more regular updates on the work we are doing to deliver the ambitions of Archives Unlocked.

Read the Archives Unlocked strategic priorities 2020-2022

Progress since the 2019-20 action plan

Since the publication of the previous action plan in late 2019, a number of important pieces of work have progressed. Much more has taken place than can be detailed here, but we hope that the highlights listed below will provide a useful update on our work over the last twelve months:

  • Plugged In, Powered Up, our ambitious digital capacity building strategy for the sector, launched in January 2020. Work delivered since then includes Archives School, our hands-on digital preservation training taught by leading experts at Kew, and Novice to Know-How, a game-changing online learning pathway, developed in collaboration with the Digital Preservation Coalition and now taken by over a thousand students. Events of the Digital Archives Learning Exchange (DALE) and a new peer mentoring programme have provided remote advice, inspiration and coaching for archivists throughout lockdown.
  • We launched the Collaborate and Innovate funding programme to empower archives and archive networks to develop creative solutions to shared challenges. In this difficult year we are pleased to have awarded £142,500 to archives across the country to support collaborative and innovative projects.
  • We have been working with colleagues across the sector on a number of initiatives looking at diversity and inclusion in archives and the sector, and appointed an Inclusion and Change Manager to lead work that will support the building of an inclusive archive sector. Tools released this year include a risk assessment framework for working with upsetting histories, support material to help refine the ways in which organisations use Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Monitoring questions, and worksheets to support inclusive practice for services re-opening after periods of closure.
  • In response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the necessary closures and changes to service provision, we provided up-to-date guidance, resources and support, and carried out research into the different impacts of the pandemic on archive services to inform our own response and advocate for the needs of the sector.
  • We secured £500,000 of funding from central government for a new COVID-19 Archives Fund to help secure vulnerable and at-risk archive collections that might otherwise be lost or destroyed as a result of the crisis.
  • Our Bridging the Digital Gap programme, supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and in collaboration with host institutions across the country, provided an additional eight traineeships in digital skills.
  • We distributed a further £660,000 of New Burdens funding to local authority places of deposit as part of the 20-year rule programme.

Our steering board

A steering board oversees the delivery of Archives Unlocked. Members of the board are drawn both from within the archives sector and externally, reflecting its ambition to advocate for the value of archives in the heritage, digital and policy-making spheres:

Paul Bristow
Director, Strategic Partnerships
Arts Council England

Beth Brunton
Head of The National Archives Trust

William Kilbride
Executive Director
Digital Preservation Coalition

Ian Leete
Senior Adviser – Culture, Tourism and Sport
Local Government Association

Emma Markiewicz (Chair)
Head of Archives Sector Development
The National Archives

Arike Oke
Managing Director
Black Cultural Archives

Geoff Pick
Director
London Metropolitan Archives

Anna Sexton
Forum for Archives and Records Management Education and Research (FARMER)

John Sheridan
Digital Director
The National Archives

Fiona Talbott
Head of Museums, Libraries and Archives
National Lottery Heritage Fund

Sara Whybrew
Programme Director (England)
Creative & Cultural Skills

The Vision

Archives Unlocked (PDF, 12.7 MB)

Archives Unlocked – accessible version (PDF, 1.1 MB)

The Archives Unlocked vision and original action plan were informed by a two-stage consultation process led by The National Archives, which took place between April 2016 and January 2017. Sector and partner engagement included roundtables in Wiltshire, London, Manchester and Birmingham. The roundtables were attended by 179 people from across the archives sector whilst our first online survey received 235 responses. A subsequent public consultation on the draft vision included an additional online survey (which received 100 responses) and six expert panels attended by over 100 strategic partners. Throughout the consultation process, we were supported by a reference group from across the archives sector.