Ockenden Venture Archive

Dr Annabelle Wilkins from the University of Manchester, a Research Associate on the AHRC-funded ‘Translating Asylum’ project, tells us about the archive of Ockenden International.

Name of archive collection? Ockenden International (formerly Ockenden Venture), Surrey History Centre.

What was the Ockenden Venture? It was established in Woking in 1951 by Joyce Pearce OBE, Ruth Hicks and Margaret Dixon. Its initial objective was to receive small numbers of Eastern European children from post-World War II displaced persons camps in Germany. After receiving funding for World Refugee Year in 1959, the charity expanded its work in Britain and overseas. Ockenden Venture had a major role in the reception and resettlement of Vietnamese refugees in Britain in the 1970s and 1980s. Alongside the British Council for Aid to Refugees and Save the Children Fund, Ockenden Venture was commissioned by the government to run reception centres for the Vietnamese refugees, operating under the umbrella of the Joint Committee for Refugees from Vietnam (JCRV). Ockenden Venture also led resettlement services, establishing support groups and liaison officers within communities where refugees were resettled.

While Ockenden Venture started as a small organisation with a strong emphasis on volunteering, the Vietnamese programme led it to expand rapidly. After the death of Joyce Pearce in 1985, the charity concentrated its efforts in work overseas, with the majority of its UK ‘homes’ closing in the 1990s. It became Ockenden International in 1999, and now operates as a funding agency.

What is in the archive collection? The Ockenden Venture archive is housed at Surrey History Centre, Woking. The archive contains meeting minutes, correspondence, annual reports and the private papers of the charity’s founders. There is a separate file on the reception and resettlement of Vietnamese refugees, which includes material on education provision for refugees and details of resettlement support programmes.

What was significant about the collection? How did it benefit your research? Our project is examining the importance of language in humanitarian responses to refugees in Britain since the 1940s, and we are interested in the broader relations between the state and non-state actors who were managing the refugee programmes. The Ockenden Venture archive provides insight into how the issue of language need was approached by that particular charity and how this compares with other charities supporting refugees in the same period. The archive contains correspondence that reveals frequently strained relations between the agencies involved in receiving refugees, as well as tensions between individual charities and the government, principally over funding of the programme. The archive material also provides evidence of a lack of long-term planning and policy around language support.

Do you have any top tips for other researchers accessing this collection? While the majority of material is classified as ‘open’, unpublished minutes and some other papers are closed for 30 years. Files that include material relating to named refugees or which contain sensitive information about individuals are closed for 100 years: permission for access to files must be sought via the Surrey History Centre. Not all material is filed in chronological order and it has not been possible to sub-divide all material into functional groupings due to the changing structure of the organisation. The best person to contact about the collection is Jill Hyams, archivist at the Surrey History Centre.

Further resources

See https://translatingasylum.com for more information on the findings of the AHRC-funded Translating Asylum project.

Full link to catalogue at Surrey History Centre.

About Georgina Brewis

Professor of Social History at UCL
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