Transforming Archives: London Metropolitan Archives

My name is Debbie Hughes and I am the National Archives Transforming Archives Trainee at the London Metropolitan Archives. I have been in this role since October 2015.

I work in the Development Team, which produces the educational events at the London Metropolitan Archives. The educational events that London Metropolitan Archives hosts vary vastly. We have school workshops for children from year four to sixth form. School groups usually go on a tour of the archives. We have university group workshops and special group workshops. As well as that we host adult events, such as talks, walks and document-viewings. We have two clubs, the Film club and LGBTQ club, which both run once a month.

I bet you are wondering what my role is in all this work. Well, I do a bit of everything. I’m grateful that I get to be involved in things that I like and want more experience in. I’m starting teacher training next year and so I like to get as much experience with schools as possible; I have assisted with a lot of school workshops this year. It has been great and I always learn something new, whether it’s the Victorian way of making ice-cream or about the Great Fire of London. The school workshops are a great way to learn about history, plus I feel that my teaching skills always improve with every workshop.

I enjoy assisting with the talks and document-viewings. In January, I assisted my colleague, Symeon, with his talk and document-viewing on Sir Joseph Bazalgette, by researching the archives for documents to use for this event. Sir Joseph Bazalgette is most likely known for his work on London’s sewage system. Although I found the research challenging, it was great when I had all the documents laid out which recognised this prestigious person for this special event.

Image of Debbie and Symeon smiling

Debbie and Symeon

Another event I worked on was London Metropolitan Archives’ annual spring festival, ‘Word in the Street’. ‘Word on the Street’ is an 18 day festival celebrating literature and the arts, with workshops and performances ending with a finale event at the Free Word Centre. I assisted marketing the event, by sending marketing emails, updating Facebook and Twitter or liaising with workshop facilitators. I also got to shadow a lot of the events, like calligraphy and the lost and found document-viewing. It was an exciting time in London Metropolitan Archives during the festival, much like when there are conferences on.

I have assisted on three conferences so far: the AMARC conference, The Huntley Conference and the ALMS conference. My duties range from manning stalls, fielding questions to delegates or distributing food. I’ve also assisted with setting up and reassembling the area that the conference takes place in.

One great thing about the traineeship is that there a pot of funding to attend training events. I’ve been to range of events including archive training, the ‘Objectively Speaking’ conference at the British Museum, and a Shirin Ebadi talk (I got a free book, ‘Until We are Free’ written by Shirin Ebadi, it’s a fantastic book, about the Iran dictatorship). I’ve also been to Edinburgh and Manchester for a National Archives conference. But the training that has stood out for me this year has been the GEM Foundation: Museum Learning.

The course is predominately for those in their first year working in museum education or for those working in a different part of the heritage sector but wishing to take up an education position. The work-based course gives participants the skills and course material to continue working in the heritage sector. On the course, I learnt about several work-based skills, such as giving and receiving feedback, team working and CPD. I took my course in Manchester and myself and the other course participants got to visit different Mancunian museums. We were given tours and talks by the museum staff. It was superbly interactive way of learning. If you want to develop your skills and knowledge about museum learning and working in heritage, I would recommend this course.

As part of the GEM Foundation: Museum Learning, I have been offered mentorship by Ria Bartlett, who is the Learning and Digital Programmes Manager at the British Library. We spoke about my work experience and plans I have for the future and we discussed areas for development. From this, I was given a fantastic and inspiring day at the British Library where I got to shadow and speak with the British Library staff in the Learning Team.

Finally, as part of my traineeship and as an assignment for the GEM Foundation: Museum Learning course, I produced and coordinated an event at the London Metropolitan Archives. My event is a talk and document-viewing of the Keskidee Centre. The Keskidee Centre was Britain’s first arts and cultural centre for the black community. The talk and document-viewing happened on 10 August 2016 to a great audience. This was the first time have been given the opportunity to produce and coordinate an event at the London Metropolitan Archives and I have learnt a lot from the experience. I have developed my skills and more confidence within myself.

This year has given me a lot of confidence, more than I could have imagined, and it will be sad to leave. But I truly believe that I have the skills and experience, more than ever, to continue a strong and empowered career.


  1. Donne Buck says:

    I hope that your archive will include material about the lives of London children out of school, especially at play. I have deposited my archive of material that relates the early development of London adventure playgrounds in the V&A Museum of Childhood where it is accessible on request to the curator. It has attracted a good deal of attention from scholars, authors and people committed to supporting the child’s right to play, especially as it includes a great many photographs of children at play in London in the 1950s and 60s. Perhaps you can establish a link with the MoC concerning this.

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