Introducing the ‘Charity and voluntary sector archives at risk’ PhD project

My name is Paul Beard, and I am the PhD student for ‘Charity and voluntary sector archives at risk: Conceptualising and contextualising a neglected archives sector’. The project is an AHRC collaborative doctoral partnership between The National Archives (TNA) and UCL (Institute of Education and the Department of Information Studies). It will take place over the next four years. My academic interests are broad, but I am particularly interested in models of practice found in museums and archives in professional and amateur settings, and how these methods overlap or differ. Additionally, the role of paraprofessionals, for example administrators who are responsible for recordkeeping tasks but have not undertaken accredited or professional training, will form a key line of inquiry.

Prior to this PhD programme, I spent over ten years working and volunteering in museums, archives and heritage organisations. Coming from an academic background that focused on museums, but working in archives in cultural organisations, I have had the opportunity to consider how and where museum and recordkeeping practices complement and diverge from one and other. In growing our digital world, the distinction between material culture and documentary evidence, and the two overarching methods that inform their management, are becoming increasingly blurred. My research will explore these themes and the various models of recordkeeping found in the voluntary sector.

Part of what drew me to this project was its practice-based element. I will be working closely with The National Archives Sector Development team to explore questions surrounding charity recordkeeping practice. Equally, the project will examine what TNA can do to improve its support for voluntary sector organisations. An essential part of my research will be working with people in the voluntary and community sector, identifying common issues faced and considering potential solutions to those problems.

Today, the voluntary sector is navigating a turbulent environment brought on by long-term austerity measures, unprecedented calls on charitable services and the ongoing uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic. This project will investigate the root issues underlying the vulnerability of collections held by voluntary sector organisations. A key outcome of my research will be a practical plan on how these challenges can be mitigated.

I look forward to updating readers of this blog with my progress over the next four years.

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