In this case study we explore what can happen when a voluntary organisation closes. It demonstrates that depositing archives can provide a lasting legacy for a charity and that expert archivists can help you achieve the best outcome in the circumstances. We would like to express our thanks to Graham Wilmington and the staff of the Bishopsgate Institute for putting this case study together.
About the organisation
Community Matters was the national membership and support organisation for the community sector in the UK. Sadly, the organisation closed in 2016, not long after celebrating its 70th anniversary in 2015. The organisation was founded in 1945 as the National Federation of Community Associations (NFCA), developing into a formal federation out of earlier work undertaken by the National Council for Social Service (NCSS) – now NCVO. Its roots lay in the community association movement that emerged to provide places for people to socialise and run development projects on the new estates that were built between the wars. Many new community centres were established, and these formed the core membership of the NFCA during its foundation. In the 1960s and 1970s the work of NFCA evolved to reflect the social and economic changes taking place in its communities and the rise of community development work. In 1982 NFCA ended its historic link with NCVO, became the National Federation of Community Organisations (NFCO) and set about building an independent organisation that would take the movement into the next millennium and reflect the diversity of the sector. The following year it published its first manifesto under the heading Community Matters, and this was later to become the organisation’s new name. Community Matters’ move to independence was part of a broader shift in the way voluntary organisations related to statutory funders and services. As part of this Community Matters began delivering business and enterprise training for its members. In the 1980s, for example, it offered training and inspiration for initiatives such as bars and licensing, tax and accountancy, community market gardens and shops and running community centres. An Advice Service was formalised in April 1996, offering organisations free one-to-one telephone advice on urgent issues. In 2008 VISIBLE, a Charity Commission-licensed toolkit, was launched as a gold quality standard for community organisations. A social impact tool “Your Value” was also developed as an affordable and simple to use tool to assess and evidence social value. When it closed, Community Matters had 850 members.
About the archive
In late 2015 the Community Matters Chief Executive Graham Willmington made contact with the British Academy ‘Digitising the Mixed Economy of Welfare in Britain’ project at UCL Institute of Education seeking advice on what do to with the organisation’s archive, which was retained in-house, and included films, magazines, publications and photographs as well as files relating to its members, their governing documents and correspondence. The collection of photographs had been grouped roughly into decades, although the subject matter of most of these was not clearly identified. Graham had already made contact with the British Library about its collection of Community magazine dating back to 1948, and had succeeded in securing private funds to digitise some historic films (now available on the Community Matters Facebook page and @cmupdates on Twitter).
We put Graham in touch with the Bishopsgate Institute, and its archivist, Stefan Dickers, visited the offices and was excited about the wealth of material Community Matters had preserved. The deposit of the collection was negotiated. As Graham reflected, the formation of a named Community Matters Archive at the Bishopsgate ‘is a brilliant outcome and ensures an ongoing legacy for the rich history of this organisation’. The deposit of the collection was one of two strands of legacy that Graham was working on in his final months in post. The other legacy was of course to ensure that community organisations across the country, members and non-members that used the services, were not left in the cold. Various organisations were approached and Graham was delighted to conclude agreements with Advising Communities and Locality who will be carrying forward much of the work and support previously offered by Community Matters. Graham’s final task was to find homes in local small charities and voluntary organisations for desks, chairs, shelving, cabinets, computers, printers and even paper and envelopes so that almost nothing was thrown away in the end. A very sustainable outcome.
The Bishopsgate Institute Perspective
Grace Biggins, the archivist who catalogued the archive for the Bishopsgate Institute gave her perspective:
We were delighted when the Community Matters archive arrived at Bishopsgate Institute in 2015. Amongst other material, the collection features publications and resource packs, handbooks on how to make your own puppet theatre, post-war neighbourhood exhibition panels, and photographs of events in local communities. It serves as a wonderful resource for British social history, and offers a rich and varied insight into social interactions of local communities and neighbourhoods. The collection documents how community associations developed from post-war Britain to the modern day.
As the archivist who catalogued the collection, I was immediately impressed by the content and range of material. I was excited to make this accessible to the public. I carefully considered the best way to arrange the collection so as to maximise its potential use, and chose to begin by cataloguing files from individual community associations. Working this way enabled me to gain an insight into the relationship Community Matters had with individual community associations, and the pivotal roles that these associations played within local communities and neighbourhoods. Once these files were catalogued, I continued to work through the collection, arranging material into different groupings. Some of these groupings include conferences, administration, correspondence and photographs. When cataloguing the collection it was crucial that I considered data protection, and applied access restrictions where necessary. Upon completing the catalogue I curated a small exhibition for the library. This showcased various parts of the collection, and demonstrated what a brilliant resource the Community Matters archive is. The collection can now be accessed by the general public in our researchers’ area. The full catalogue is also available on our website (http://www.bishopsgate.org.uk/Lib’rary/Library-and-Archive-Collections/Protest-and-Campaigning/Community-Matters).
Bishopsgate Institute was also delighted to accept the Community Development Foundation Archive shortly after this, which alongside the Community Matters Archive, provides a vital insight into community organisation and post-war British social life. The cataloguing of the Community Development Foundation Archive will begin shortly and is due to be completed in summer 2017.