Partnering with York Learning

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 art installed on the wall at Lidgett Grove Church

The final art installed on the wall at Lidgett Grove Church

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.

Carefully crafted art inspired cake....a must for any launch event!

Carefully crafted art inspired cake….a must for any launch event!

The learners gather around the cake to celebrate their achievements

The learners gather around the cake to celebrate their achievements

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.

Digging for gold in our community collections: Round Three!

Yep- it’s time for another one of these posts where I pick out some of our lovely community collections to show you again.
This time, I’ve chosen to tell you about a collection that is very special to me, as it was the first-ever collection that I catalogued! It is the York Penitentiary Society collection (PEN). And just in case you’re thinking ‘what is ‘penitentiary’’? like I was when I was first handed this collection, fear not- I will explain! The York Penitentiary Society was established in 1822 with the aim of reforming girls who were thought to have ‘sinned’ through work and religious instruction. To give you a bit more of a flavour of what the society was all about, here are their rules and an agreement that girls had to sign before entering the Penitentiary:

It seems that those signing the agreement promised to remain in the Penitentiary home for two years, and abide by some very strict rules!

Another personal highlight amongst the collections I have worked with is a bundle of letters written by artist William Powell Frith to his sister, Jennie. These feature in the Raine family collection (JAR). Frith was a Victorian artist, who painted wonderful scenes of Victorian life. A favourite of mine is the Railway Station (1862), which- as hinted at by its title- depicts a station platform scene at London’s Paddington Station. Amongst the bustling platform are a bridge and groom presumably setting off on their honeymoon, a thief being arrested by the police, and even the artist himself surrounded by his family.

Anyway, enough of me going off on a tangent! What makes these letters so fantastic is the way in which they really give you an insight into the life of the artist behind the paintings. He writes of exhibitions, his progress on painting and even more mundane aspects of life. These little treasures are well worth a read!

Letters from Frith to his sister, based in York

Letters from Frith to his sister, based in York

A collection I have catalogued more recently that caught my eye was the Allen family collection. The Allens were clearly keen history researchers, and their collection contains these lovely volumes…

They contain detailed notes on ‘antique and armourial collections’, and beautiful sketches accompany them. What a fantastic way of combining artistic talent with historical research! This lovely collection will be searchable on Explore’s online catalogue from next week onwards.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little snippet of our community collections. Once again, if you have any particular favourites from our community collections then please let us know about it! Tweet us @YorkArchivesUK using #voicesofthearchives, or drop me an email at