The Leonard Cheshire Archive

Dr Laura Crawford, Senior Research Fellow at Northumbria University, tells us about the Leonard Cheshire Archive Centre in Netherseal, South Derbyshire, UK.

Tell us a little about Leonard Cheshire?

Leonard Cheshire is a charity founded in 1948 by former RAF pilot Leonard Cheshire to provide care for people with complex needs, illnesses and impairments. By 1955, the charity was running five homes in the UK. Today the organisation offers a diverse portfolio of support services for disabled people.

How did you use the Leonard Cheshire Archive in your research?

My research involved an in-depth engagement with the Leonard Cheshire charity archive. Sources from the collection underpinned my doctoral research project, titled: ‘There’s no place like a Cheshire Home? Redefining the role of disabled residents in residential care at Le Court 1948-1975’. The collection includes correspondence, meeting minutes, photographs, audio visual items and promotional materials relating to the charity. The archival records provide an invaluable insight into the history of the charity and the sources can be analysed to gain new perspectives on disability history. The collection is based at the Leonard Cheshire Archive, Newlands House in Netherseal, South Derbyshire.

What was significant about the collection?

Front cover of the Cheshire Smile magazine 1962
Front cover of the Cheshire Smile, 1962

My thesis explored the geographies of disability, home and care of Le Court Cheshire Home, 1948-1975. Le Court was the first Cheshire Home created by Leonard Cheshire. When the charity started in 1948 it exclusively ran homes. The word ‘home’ symbolised the type of environments the charity sought to create, as opposed to the ‘institutional’ settings many residents were living in previously. There is very little research about where disabled people were living between 1948-1975, and how these experiences were instrumental to the formation of the disability rights movement. My research engaged with archival sources to excavate this ‘hidden history’, arguing that the residents’ efforts to redefine their place in the Le Court home was a precursor to broader considerations about the place of disabled people in society.

Do you have any top tips for other researchers accessing this collection?

My top tip for engaging with the archive would be to develop clear research aims which will result in a more purposeful searching strategy. At the outset I knew I wanted to explore geographical themes by focusing on the residents’ experiences of life at Le Court. This choice of focus shaped which collections, sub-folders and types of source I looked at. The residents voices were much more visible in copies of The Cheshire Smile (a quarterly magazine written and edited by the residents), for example, than in the minutes from Management Committee meetings.

Recognising that my impression of the Homes would be shaped by the process through which I encountered the archival material, I began my research by reading through the Cheshire Smile magazines. The magazine foregrounded the voices of the residents in my data analysis and also helped situate other archival sources within the broader landscape of health and social care and disability activism at the time. In summary, develop a clear sense of purpose which is linked to your research aims and disciplinary interests to enable you to fully embrace the archival materials.

How does this archive collection challenge accepted understandings?

The advent of the social model of disability in 1975 is widely reported as a landmark moment in the UK disability rights movement. The archival records housed at the Leonard Cheshire Archive demonstrate there is a rich history which pre-dates this.

Further reading

Crawford, L. and Mills, S. (2020). Historical research: Gender, politics and ethics. In: Datta, A., Hopkins, P., Johnston, L., Olson, E. and Silva, J. M. (eds.) Routledge Handbook of Gender and Feminist Geographies. Oxon: Routledge, pp. 490-501.

Find out more about the history of Leonard Cheshire and its archive collections on the Rewind website: https://rewind.leonardcheshire.org/

About Georgina Brewis

Associate Professor in the History of Education, UCL
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