My year in archives

on Saturday, 12 August 2017. Posted in Archives, History Centre

As my Heritage Lottery Funded ‘Skills for the Future: Transforming Archives’ traineeship draws to a close, I find myself reflecting on all the new, unique and exciting experiences I’ve encountered over the past 10 months, which have made this time so memorable. My personal focus has been on learning and acquiring valuable skills to carry forward into a future career – and in this sense the traineeship has more than served its purpose. The fact that I’ve been able to undertake the journey surrounded by such kind, interesting and supportive people has been a bonus!

I still clearly remember the day I started at Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre. Completely new to the world of archives and heritage, I was briefed by the previous trainee, Jess, who provided me with tables, spreadsheets, logs and lists that she had kindly prepared to help me manage my day to day activities. (Jess is very good at this sort of thing). Despite nodding calmly in response to her, my internal state was one of sheer anxiety – ‘There’s so much to cram in!’. In hindsight, the year has been nothing but smooth, engaging and fun… there was really nothing for me to have worried about.

If you’ve read my previous posts about coming to the traineeship and some of the interesting insights I’ve had along the way, you’ll get a sense of all I was up to in those early days. In truth, the time hasn’t become any less busy! From attending a training week at the National Archives of Scotland to visiting the City of London Police Museum, with pit-stops at various digitisation conferences, fundraising training days, and of course, the (world-famous) Museum and Heritage show at Kensington’s Olympia.

Closer to home, I’ve continued my training in traditional archive skills, looking at the typical  content and uses of education records, parish registers, manorial documents, wills and testaments, local government records, and even lunatic asylum records. Whilst learning about the latter with archivist Margaret Moles, I decided to conduct a small project, researching a name which had come up in a separate oral history interview I’d conducted. My interviewee had shared the story of his great aunt, who had suffered mental health issues in the 1920’s and was hospitalized at Roundway Mental Hospital, Devizes. Using what I’d learned, I traced the patient’s actual medical records from the time – with permission - and read about her day to day experiences at the hospital. I was able to learn about the nature of her condition, what her doctors had to say, and even glean some information about her relatives at that time. From there I sourced a book in our local studies library called ‘Down Pan’s Lane’, written by Philip Frank Steele, a historian fascinated by Roundway Hospital. This enabled me to get a sense of what life was like for patients at the time – from their food and sleep routines to gardening activities, and even the programme of entertainment laid on by medical staff! It was absolutely fascinating, and proved a valuable resource for putting this one lady’s personal story into a wider historical context.

Over the course of the year I have also had the privilege of contributing to several Heritage Lottery funded projects: Lacock Unlocked: Community Archive, Wiltshire at War: Community Stories, and Creative Wiltshire: Collecting Cultures. The latter two are ongoing and have attracted huge publicity – even drawing interest from BBC Radio Wiltshire. (Watch this space!).

I recently wrote a successful proposal to present the Creative Wiltshire project at the ‘Creative Histories’ conference – co-organised by the University of Bristol and The Bristol Institute for Research in the Humanities and Arts (BIRTHA). It was a wonderful experience for Julie Davis (Project Officer), Ally McConnell (Project Archivist), and myself as a Collection Development and Community Engagement trainee to attend the event and share the success of our inspiring project. As an added perk, the lunch put on for us was mind-blowing!

I’ve also helped to organise a free, HLF funded pottery workshop as part of Creative Wiltshire, which is being led by famous Wiltshire potter Bill Crumbleholme in Bulford. Over the course of two days in August, military and civilian families will learn how to make Bronze-Age inspired pots and beakers, learn basic metalwork techniques, and then build outdoor kilns to fire their creations. It’s been hugely satisfying for me to see the event so widely publicised, with all places quickly snapped up!

By attending outside training events, then putting my learning to work on each of these projects, I’ve been able to hone my skills in areas such as fundraising, marketing, project management and outreach and engagement. I can honestly say that I’ve developed so many valuable skills that will serve my career moving forward. I will certainly be leaving Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre on a high, as I begin my new role as a Senior Community Engagement Officer in my home city of Bristol.

I consider this last year to have been an incredible success for me – I’ve grown so much, whilst being surrounded by kind, supportive people in a thoroughly professional environment. Simply put, I couldn’t have wished for more, and I feel very blessed indeed.

I do wish everyone at Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre great success in their future endeavours. As the centre continues to develop its incredible offerings to the worlds of archives and heritage, there will be increasingly more opportunities for members of the public to get involved in projects. I have witnessed first-hand how valuable volunteers are in this work, whatever their unique skill-set may be. If you’d like to get involved at the History Centre, however much time you have to spare – do get in touch. I guarantee there will be plenty of opportunity for you to learn valuable new skills too!

Leighton Gosai

Skills for the Future: Transforming Archives Trainee

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