On Wednesday 27th of June I attended the Community Archives and Heritage Group conference at UCL, which was a varied and interesting event, that gave me lots to think about for my dissertation.
During the conference, there was an awards ceremony, and each of the winners presented a short presentation about the work they do. The winner of the Inspiration award was ‘Pride in our Past’.
The Plymouth Pride Forum embarked on this project to give a voice to an overlooked community in Plymouth, one that as well as being overlooked, was thought to be wrong, and shaded in secrecy and shame. They collected oral histories, and physical artefacts and formed the Plymouth LGBT Archive. They received funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund to put on one exhibition.
|Image courtesy of Pride in Our Past
When the Hello Sailor! exhibition in Liverpool was in the planning stages, in spite of its rich naval history, no one came forward to tell their story, Plymouth apparently being more closeted than most UK cities. Collecting the oral histories got off to a rocky start. One elderly woman spoke to one of the archivists and said “oh no dear, we don’t do any of that here”, but eventually voices- young and old- came forward. Age Concern also formed an LGBT group at the same time. The archivists were touched when an elderly gay woman said that she didn’t think anyone would ever want to hear her story in her lifetime.
Once the project got into full swing, an LGBT youth group Out Youth created art work to accompany the exhibition, one teen, on seeing his work in print in a magazine, said he felt like he was making history.
The project has brought together a community that had previously been living alongside each other in silence. For the participants it became about taking pride in who they are, and taking ownership of their LGBT identity. This was particularly moving for the older generations, one couple who had been together for 50 years loaned a painting of them together to the exhibition, marking a public recognition of their long-term commitment to each other. most of the material shown and created will become a permanent part of the collection.
Pride in our Past was obviously a worthy winner of the Inspiration award, and have formed a great model by which other regional archives could follow. Hopefully as time goes by, these narratives can be integrated throughout all parts of the archive collections, as the LGBT identity of people does not exist in isolation, but is a vital part of all aspects of community life.
You can find more about the archive collection here.
And more about the Pride in our Past project here.
The video of the presentation can be found here.
The other award winners can be found here.