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What is Archives Unlocked?

Archives Unlocked is the Government’s strategic vision for releasing the potential of archives. Our ambition is that archives inspire trust, enrich society and people’s lives, and are open to all. Launched in 2017, the vision document explores what our core values and ambitions of Trust, Enrichment and Openness mean for archives.

Alongside the vision document, we publish regular action plans, outlining the work we are doing to deliver the ambitions of Archives Unlocked and our strategic priorities for the coming months. Since 2017, these updates have focused on three key themes: Digital Capacity, Resilience, and Impact.

These themes remain as relevant as ever, and continue to shape our work with and for the sector. From 2020, we are widening our focus to include additional themes, outlined below. Our hope is that this will allow us to give greater attention to issues affecting us all, both within the archives sector and beyond.

Our priorities for 2020-22

You can find out below about our priorities for 2020-22, arranged under the ambitions of Trust, Enrichment and Openness. These priorities outline what we want the archives sector to feel enabled and empowered to do, with our support and collaboration, over the next two years.

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What’s new?

What’s new?

In the three years since we launched Archives Unlocked, The National Archives and the archives sector have together made impressive progress towards delivering on the vision’s key themes of digital capacity, resilience and impact. Through training, strategic funding and collaborative research, the sector is more visible, better skilled, and more capable.

A lot has happened in the wider world, too. The National Archives’ new strategic vision, Archives for Everyone, recognises this, and outlines our ambitions to become the 21st Century national archive: one that is inclusive, entrepreneurial, and disruptive. As an organisation and sector leader, we recognise that as we have made progress, further challenges and issues have grown in prominence.

2020 has of course brought unprecedented change, challenging us all to re-examine our practice. This year, we have learned to operate without access to our physical spaces, we have focused our minds on digital capacity and engagement, we have reaffirmed our commitment to equality and we are thinking more than ever about our resilience as a sector. All this has afforded us a new opportunity to look at and reassess how we work – with our collections, our audiences, and each other.

With this latest iteration of the Archives Unlocked action plan we are taking the opportunity to step back, look at the bigger picture, and set ourselves and the sector some transformative goals for the next two years.

In consultation with the Archives Unlocked steering board, we are reframing our thinking and priorities to better encompass the following important issues: diversity and inclusion, innovation and risk, advocacy and reputation, and health and wellbeing. These themes are woven into the priorities outlined on this web page. Our job then, will be to work together to deliver on those priorities and carry on progressing towards the ambitions set out in Archives Unlocked.

As always, I look forward to working with you as we build on what has already been achieved and continue to realise the full potential of archives.

Jeff James
Chief Executive and Keeper, The National Archives

What’s new?

Image credit: History of Advertising Trust (ref: HAT2/1/40/75)

What’s next?

What’s next?

With this publication, we invite the whole sector to work with us and with each other as we continue towards the ambitions of Trust, Openness and Enrichment.

In the following sections we outline our priorities for the archives sector for the next two years, and will make a more detailed work plan available on our website.

We recognise that much has changed in the last three years, and that much more is likely to need to change over the course of the next two years.

As a sector we will need to embrace new models of access. There will be a heightened focus on digital engagement, and how we reach audiences old and new. It will become more important than ever to advocate, as a whole sector, for the importance of recordkeeping. And our work to raise awareness, increase understanding, and strengthen the reputation of archives, right across society, will be crucial.

Alongside archives’ strong reputation for historical research and evidence, we want to work with the sector and help it embrace the many ways in which its work can help change people’s lives, and institutions, for the better. We invite the sector to work collaboratively and innovatively to build a more inclusive profession, and to contribute to tackling common societal challenges such as loneliness and social isolation.

Finally, we will all need to become increasingly open to thinking and doing things differently. As well as playing an active role within our professional community, we encourage you all to actively seek out new partners, diverse perspectives and innovative ideas, for the benefit of the whole sector.

Our collaborative spirit as a sector will serve us well as we each consider what we can do to better equip ourselves and others to succeed and thrive.

Emma Markiewicz
Head of Archive Sector Development, The National Archives

What’s next?

Image credit: Medieval Murmurings event at The National Archives



The National Archives and the archives sector will work together to:

1.1  Develop the potential of archives to support democratic and other rights for groups and individuals, nationally and locally, and to raise awareness of this key aspect of our work.

1.2  Ensure archivists have the skills to manage records and the risks to them, and that professional standards evolve to support the changing needs of collections, the archives workforce and audiences, even in times of uncertainty.

1.3  Develop the skills, knowledge and confidence to preserve collections, especially digital records.

1.4  Remove barriers to access, and engage audiences reflecting the diversity of the UK today.

1.5  Encourage sustainable active collecting in the face of declining core resources and the challenges presented by digital material.

1.6  Increase the visibility and diversity of archive collections – working more actively and equitably with marginalised and under-represented individuals and groups to together develop collections that are reflective of our communities and society.

1.7  Better understand and address barriers to access.


Image credit: Charles Woolf Slide Collection, Institute of Cornish Studies, University of Exeter (ref: ICS12/3480)



The National Archives and the archives sector will work together to:

2.1  Adopt an evidence-based approach to demonstrating the relevance, value and impact of archives across communities and society, helping to position archives as partners of choice beyond our sector.

2.2  Champion the role archives and their collections can play in enhancing people’s health and wellbeing, providing opportunities for discovery, learning and connection, recognition and reconciliation; inspiring creativity, a thirst for knowledge and strengthening our understanding of identity, place and belonging.

2.3  Unlock new sources of funding and new commercial opportunities, through our use of evidence, effective internal and external advocacy, and partnership working.

2.4  Develop our financial know-how and planning skills to become more resilient as a sector.

2.5  Review eligibility and reach of existing funding sources to increase accessibility for grassroots, community-based and independent initiatives.

2.6  Seize the opportunities of digital access and engagement to take archives to new audiences and future-proof archive services’ offer across all their audiences.

2.7  Better understand what is needed from sector leadership to enable us to speak in a more unified voice, work more effectively as a sector to articulate the challenges we face, and advocate for change and increased investment where needed.


Image credit: The National Archives (ref: COPY1/122 286)



The National Archives and the archives sector will work together to:

3.1  Open up entry routes into the profession to build a skilled, diverse and inclusive workforce that is fairly and openly recruited, more resilient and more representative of our current and potential audiences, partners and collections.

3.2  Continue to develop our skills to meet the future needs of the sector, and the digital challenge in particular. Work with current education providers to widen participation at point of entry and embed inclusive teaching within archives and records management postgraduate programmes.

3.3  Equip ourselves with the skills and confidence to influence decision-making and planning at strategic as well as operational levels, and lead on digital approaches within our respective organisations and industries.

3.4  Be brave and bold – trying out new approaches without fear of failure, learning from our mistakes, and sharing the lessons learnt for the benefit of the whole sector.

3.5  Listen and learn from one another, including those who currently feel marginalised and excluded. Value the sum of lived experience, work experience and education to support holistic and collaborative learning across the sector.

3.6  Embrace changing practice, especially in terms of digital records and digital access and engagement.

3.7  Work together more than ever, building on the energy and uniquely collaborative spirit of our sector to maximise the opportunities for knowledge and skills exchange, and for transformative partnerships across disciplines.


Image credit: London Borough of Tower Hamlets (ref: DG/1/46)