The Campaign for Voluntary Sector Archives was launched on Monday 15 October 2012 at the House of Lords. The Campaign launch was sponsored by Baroness Pitkeathley and funded by The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund. The afternoon seminar, chaired by Professor Virginia Berridge of the Centre for History in Public Health at LSHTM, presented a range of perspectives on the subject of voluntary sector archives from academics, archivists, funders and owners of records. One of the greatest strengths of this new Campaign lies in bringing together these different stakeholders.
Professor Matthew Hilton opened the seminar with a presentation of the work of his DANGO project at the University of Birmingham. He argued that researchers ought to work more closely with voluntary organisations because archival research was one way to identify the past successes and failures of NGOs and begin to address criticisms of history repeating itself within the humanitarian relief sector.
Next, David McCullough outlined the reasons why a predominantly service delivery charity like WRVS might choose to spend around £50,000 a year on maintaining an in-house archive service. The WRVS archive is seen as a ‘business tool’ and has been used to add colour to a fundraising bid, to distinguish WRVS from other charities, to demonstrate long-term commitment to communities and as part of celebrations for the organisation’s upcoming 75th anniversary. Judy Burg described some of the practical considerations for voluntary sector organisations choosing to deposit records with a specialist collection like Hull History Centre. She noted that having acquired a charity’s records, the repository would be more inclined to acquire similar relevant material, thereby allowing researchers to understand voluntary organisations in wider social and political context.
The second afternoon panel focussed on trusts and foundations. Diana Leat argued that trusts and foundations should both treasure their own archives and support other organisations to do so. She pointed out that archive materials could enable a much richer story of an organisation to be told. Chief Executive of Heritage Lottery Fund Carole Souter noted that last year HLF had funded more archives projects than ever before and encouraged charities to apply for funds to make their collections publicly accessible. Finally, Anna Southall presented a case study of how the Barrow Cadbury Trust has recently appointed a professional archivist to sort and catalogue the records it has stored with Birmingham Archives and Heritage service, illustrating a possible middle way between the in-house and deposit models.
In the evening guests listened to an entertaining talk from Tristram Hunt MP about the value of voluntary sector archives to society and heard from NFWI Chair Ruth Bond about the archive collections of the Women’s Institutes, held across the UK in local record offices and in some federation offices. Finally, Oliver Morley, CEO of the National Archives, pledged his support for the Campaign. Over the past year TNA has made a commitment to preparing specialist guidance and case studies for the sector.
Much work now lies ahead for the Campaign. We plan to produce relevant guidance, seek out examples of good and bad practice, influence regulatory bodies such as the Charity Commission and raise questions about access and use of such archives. As one of the key issues remains sustainable funding for records management and archiving, we also hope to develop the ‘enabling role’ of funders in this area.
You can read a longer write up of the Campaign launch on the VAHS blog and see a list of other blog posts and articles here.