The York: Gateway to History project has worked with so many different people to improve engagement with archives. One of the ways we have done this is through our partnership with York Learning, part of City of York Council. They provide a wide range of courses and opportunities ‘to support lifelong learning, develop people’s skills and qualifications and help those seeking to return to the labour market.’
A number of projects to engage adult learners in the archives were developed and I had the opportunity to be involved in a few of these and really see first hand how we can engage new audiences in archives and local history.
The first project we got involved with was at Lidgett Grove Church in Acomb. York Learning tutor Donna Taylor was running a community art project with 7 learners, all from the local area. All of the learners had different skills, but all had an interest in local history and were keen to base their project around this theme.
The learners visited the archives at Explore and researched the history of Acomb using historical maps and the Acomb Local History Society archive (Ref no: ACO). Based on the research the learners created a piece of community art along the corridor in Lidgett Grove Church. The Church is a local hub which hosts a lot of community events including a cafe once a week, so it was an ideal location to share a piece of local history!
The final piece was launched in November 2015, and one local resident even made an art inspired cake especially for the event. People of all ages engaged with the piece with maps of local streets proving particularly popular.
Learners seeking to improve their literacy skills also got involved with the archives to seek inspiration for creative writing. Two classes, ran by York Learning tutor Jayne Shipley, had the chance to look at a wide range of collections from past Christmas cards to a customer ledger for a local Tailor’s business. We even had a look at our Imagine York online image collections for inspiration! Using a mixture of written and visual materials meant we could cater for all abilities, and the learners are now busy writing stories about what they found the most interesting.
It has been a fantastic experience sharing archives with groups of people who have never used an archive before. Their enthusiasm has been so rewarding and marks the start of a continuing partnership with York Learning to open up the archives to wider audiences.