With The National Archives being so close to the Thames, that has got me thinking about the Greek philosopher Heraclitus. He noted that you can’t step into the same river twice. By that he meant that you can go down to the same point on the river bank as many times as you like but the river you step into (again) will be different – the molecules of water you stepped into previously are now many miles out to sea. We may do the same things every day but – the everyday routine is subtly different; the every day is not so ‘everyday’ in reality. The sameness of routine can actually be quite unfamiliar.
And so it is every time I arrive at Kew. My three hour door-to-door expedition from the south coast is never the same and never predictable. I shall avoid sharing any tales of my travel adventures and endless delays – they are not for the faint-hearted! The reception I get when I walk through the entrance from Ruskin Avenue is not predictable either. Sometimes I fall under the watchful gaze of the heron, occasionally the family of swans pause to note my presence, but often I just pass unnoticed, or at least I think so.
I never quite know what to expect when I arrive to do my ‘bit’ for the Friends. I always know what is planned or intended: ‘press gang‘ duties, meetings with staff, a Council meeting or very occasionally – a chance to sneak upstairs and get some of my own research done. But beyond that initial intention, anything could happen during the course of the day and often it does. Inevitably there is some routine – a quick head count of the cygnets, signing in, popping into the bookshop to say hello to the team and catch-up on recent membership applications and book review news, collect the latest round of printing or check the post.
Occasionally there are parcels waiting for me, something that always generates interest and a degree of curiosity from colleagues. It can be quite varied – books for review, brochures, a new set of bookmarks from our printers or a new set of roller banners. However, the celebration balloon emblazoned with our logo and ‘over 1,000 members’ that floated out of a large cardboard box a few months back probably caused the biggest surprise and interest.
The Friends’ Council
In previous blog posts I highlighted the activities involved with recruiting new members (incidentally, the membership is now around 1060) and the effort involved in producing our magazine. However, an aspect I have not yet mentioned is the role of the Friends’ Council who meet six times a year to discuss the activity, governance, finance and policy issues relating to our role and status as a charity. The Friends exist to support The National Archives and to make a difference – adding value beyond ‘normal business’ activity. It is on those days that we have Council meetings that I find particularly interesting and rewarding. It is our opportunity to fulfil our purpose and make that difference happen in a very tangible way.
The Council comprises of the chairman, vice chairman, secretary and treasurer, with roles for membership, editor, events and visits, projects, and non-portfolio positions to help support other members of the team. Ian, our chairman, keeps us in order and looks after the strategic and policy aspects of our activity. My lot as vice chairman (and editor) is to oversee the day-to-day activity, the tactical element ensuring we fulfil our intentions. There are nine Council members at the moment but there are places for a maximum of 12. The agenda is very varied ranging from the standing items – reports on membership, finance, editorial and outreach matters, and project updates, to particular issues relating to the Friends and funding requests to support various document and other projects. The Director of Public Services and Human Resources also provides a report to keep Council updated on activities and developments within The National Archives.
A small subcommittee considers the funding requests and makes recommendations ahead of each meeting. The majority of requests for funding are successful and it is very satisfying to be in a position to enable projects to go ahead. Recently supported funding requests for projects have included the digitalisation of ADM 158, employing a researcher to catalogue the prize papers in HCA 30 & 32, supporting the recent All at sea conference, and providing further funds for MH 47 – an earlier supported project in conjunction with the Federation of Family History Societies – to enable the purchase of display boards for the open reading room. We are also supporting the current competition of Files on Film that is now in its second year.
A significant and interesting development in our funding disbursement has been our support for the education and outreach departments’ project on Locker Lampson, in conjunction with the Wren Academy. You can read more about this project in an upcoming blog post. Our funding for this project is part of the intention to raise our profile to a wider audience and like-minded groups that use The National Archives.
Now, where were we? Oh yes – on the riverbank contemplating difference and routine. Am I tempted to test Heraclitus’ theory? No, to be honest it doesn’t look that appealing; there was a much better river here yesterday.