Events, News

UK Youth and the archives and records of youth charities: Preservation, access and research

The ARP is delighted to be organising a half-day workshop at the Cadbury Research Library at the University of Birmingham. The event will explore the archives and records of youth charities. The Cadbury Research Library holds the archives of several youth organisations, a rich body of material that enables insight into aspects of work with young people, including physical and mental health, informal education, youth (un)employment, outdoor activities, campaigning, and volunteering. It has recently completed a Wellcome Trust funded project to improve access to two such collections, namely the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) and Youth Hostel Association (YHA).

We have planned this event to mark the transfer of the transfer of the records of the National Association of Boys’ Clubs (NABC) to join the rest of the UK Youth archive at the Cadbury Research Library. UK Youth began life in 1911 as the National Association of Girls’ Clubs (NAGC), later adding ‘and Mixed Clubs’ to its title to reflect its increasing co-educational focus. The National Association of Boys’ Clubs (NABC) was founded in 1925 and was later known as Ambition.

In 2017, Ambition merged into UK Youth and the organisation inherited a large collection of unsorted records in poor condition, which had been stored in a damp basement in Ambition’s London headquarters. UK Youth had already deposited over 100 boxes of its own records with the Cadbury Research Library at the University of Birmingham and faced a big challenge in adequately looking after this new batch of records, which were transferred to Avon Tyrrell, an outdoor centre located in an historic house in the New Forest.

In 2017, UK Youth became a partner in my ESRC-funded project ‘Discourses of Voluntary Action at Two Transformational Moments of the Welfare State’, a collaborative, inter-disciplinary research project in which we worked with four large national infrastructure organisations to identify, select and analyse mostly privately held records from the 1940s and 2010s (read more about the process we called co-curation in this open access article here).

As part of this project, we committed to trying to secure long-term solutions for the archive collections that remained vulnerable after our research was over. We had already intervened to support the donation of the records of an earlier project partner – the National Council of Voluntary Youth Services or NCYVS – which came to UCL in 2014 just before it closed (See the NCVYS catalogue).

The COVID-19 pandemic placed additional strain on UK Youth’s ability to look after this inherited archive collection and its condition deteriorated, even as we applied unsuccessfully to the COVID-19 Archives Fund. Unfortunately, some of the bound volumes of minutes were affected by red rot and had to be quarantined. In the end, the ARP funded a consultant archivist to appraise the collection and facilitate the transfer of part of it to join the rest of the UK Youth archive in Birmingham in 2023. At our event in June 2024, Kevin Bolton will outline this process, and offer top tips for other organisations facing similar issues.

The united UK Youth archive now forms a significant collection for research, containing materials relevant to childhood and youth, the evolution of youth work, informal education, leisure and recreation, sports and outdoor pursuits, war and peace, charity and volunteering as well as themes of class, gender, masculinity. Its relevance thus extends to academic disciplines beyond history including social policy, youth studies, voluntary sector studies, sociology, geography and gender studies. It offers a considerable collection of written documents, photographs, film, objects and artefacts that have potential for teaching, research, and public engagement activities. Bringing the records of the boys’ club movement together with those of the girls’ and mixed club movement will enable rigorous comparison of these very different movements and their changing place in society over time.

The 18 June 2024 workshop will showcase the UK Youth collection alongside others, and we are pleased to have Jacob Diggle from UK Youth to speak at thee event. At a time when many organisations working with young people are facing a lack of resources and operational challenges, what value might there be in engaging with the history of the youth sector? What impact does preserving and improving access to collections have? How can researchers from different disciplines make innovative use of youth charity archives? What works well in increasing preservation and access, and how can archiving records ensure the legacy of organisations facing closure or merger? Sadly, yet another of the ESRC Discourses project partners, Children England, closed in in 2023, but its records are also safely at UCL.

St Michaels Boys Club Magazine

We envisage this event to be of interest to researchers and students across disciplines including history, geography, social policy or voluntary sector studies; archivists and records managers; and trustees and staff of voluntary sector organisations. Although our focus is on youth charities, the workshop will be relevant to those interested in or working across the voluntary sector.

Find out more

Book here: Archives and records of youth charities: Preservation, access and research Tickets, Tue, Jun 18, 2024 at 2:00 PM | Eventbrite

Read more about the research in this open access book: Transformational Moments in Social Welfare – What Role for Voluntary Action? | Bristol University Press (bristoluniversitypressdigital.com)

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About Georgina Brewis

Professor of Social History at UCL
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