Transforming Archives: Norfolk Record Office

I am currently an outreach and engagement trainee at the Norfolk Record Office, through The National Archives’ Transforming Archives programme. The traineeship has been a fantastic experience, broadening my knowledge of the history of Norfolk and enabling me to work on a wide-ranging programme of activities and events.

Image of Elizabeth talking to members of the local history society

Leading a behind-the-scenes tour for the Great Yarmouth Local History and Archaeological Society

Prior to beginning the traineeship, I was teaching the art and humanities curriculum at a secondary school in Norwich. I enjoyed planning and teaching schemes of work based on the local history of Norfolk, but having spent seven years working with young people I wanted to expand my experience to working with a wider audience.

When I saw the Outreach and Engagement Traineeship at the Norfolk Record Office I was incredibly excited – it was just the specialism I wanted, in my home county! I had been considering a career in the heritage sector for a while but the thought that archives have educational programmes hadn’t crossed my mind. I had little knowledge about the type and range of archives that exist, or the services they provide.

Image of bright blue puppet theatre with animal puppets

The puppet theatre and display created for a school holiday activity.

At the Norfolk Record Office, I work as part of a small team that plans and manages education and outreach activities. This includes a schools programme, behind-the-scenes tours, lunchtime talks, workshops, courses and school holiday activities. The department also manages the archive’s social media accounts, contributes to exhibitions and creates and distributes marketing material for upcoming events. This has meant over the past eight months my tasks have been many and varied, from drawing a life-sized First World War soldier, based on original records, to designing animal puppets and choosing and locating documents for a local history group.

Projects and collaborations

Since the start of my traineeship I have been involved in two partnership projects: Change Minds, a Heritage Lottery Funded project for adults living with mental health difficulties, and the Seething Project, a digitisation work placement scheme for young people with Asperger Syndrome.

Change Minds is a two-year project, designed for two cohorts of participants, and is run by The Restoration Trust in partnership with Norfolk Record Office and Together in North Norfolk. Over the course of a year participants are introduced to a variety of archival skills through researching the lives of people admitted to the Norfolk County Asylum in the late 19th century. They are taught how to transcribe case studies and use the search room, learn about the Norfolk Sound Archive and how to create an oral history recording and work with a professional poet and artist to make creative outcomes. The two years will finish with a touring exhibition showcasing the participants’ work and a celebration event at the House of Commons.

Image of an open book with writing covering both pages

An example case study from the records of St Andrew’s Hospital, 1881-1883 (Norfolk Record Office catalogue reference: SAH 270)

Supporting Change Minds sessions has provided me with a range of experience and skills including assisting participants with how to conduct research, planning and reflecting on sessions with the project coordinator, observing how professional artists deliver workshops, participating in an oral history recording and taking minutes in the board meetings. In addition to this I’ve filled numerous hot water urns and sliced lots of cake!

Through working on Change Minds I have gleaned a valuable insight into the reporting process for the Heritage Lottery Fund and the outcomes projects must meet. I’ve also learned of the benefits of working in partnership and how engaging with archives and culture can contribute to improved health and wellbeing.

As well as working on Change Minds, I spend two mornings a week supervising trainees on the Seething digitisation project. This is a formal six-week work placement scheme organised in partnership with Asperger’s East Anglia and is funded through a grant from South Norfolk Council. The project aims to digitise the private collection of a resident of Seething, which documents the history and memoirs of personnel from the 448th Bomb Group stationed at Seething Airfield during the Second World War. My responsibilities with this project include conducting an induction with the new trainees, organising their training and teaching them how to use Capture One 8 software to capture and process images and input metadata.

I really appreciate the responsibility I have been given with these two projects and am looking forward to sharing my experiences of working on Change Minds with other archive professionals in the poster exhibition at the Archives and Records Association 2016 conference in London.

Highlights of my year so far

An aspect of the traineeship I was really attracted to was that each trainee receives a personal training budget, meaning we can search for opportunities linked to our individual training needs. This has helped me to identify and target gaps in my skills and knowledge and it never fails to amaze me how many great CPD opportunities there are out there, if you just find the right places to look!

In the past eight months I have benefited from skills-based training through the Norfolk Record Office and Norfolk County Council’s learning hub, and attended ‘base camp’ training at The National Archives and General Register House in Edinburgh. I have attended a few training sessions coordinated by SHARE Museums East, including Marketing to Drive Fundraising and Income generation, Managing Successful Events and the Children and Young People Conference. I have also attended two courses led by the Archives and Record Association, Volunteers Managers and People Management and Audience Engagement: strategies and practices.

The traineeship has provided a fantastic opportunity for me to learn from and network with other professionals in the archive and wider heritage sector, and to learn of some inspiring examples of audience engagement projects happening in archives. I have also had the pleasure to be part of a supportive team of Transforming Archives trainees and staff at the Norfolk Record Office. I’ve learned of the breadth and beauty of the collection the Norfolk Record Office holds, and have enjoyed discovering more about the people, places and stories in the archive through writing for the Norfolk Record Office blog.

In the coming months I am looking forward to planning and delivering a local history workshop with my former primary school and planning pop-up exhibitions for the Rackheath Community Archive Launch and the Great Yarmouth Maritime Festival. I have thoroughly enjoyed my training experience so far and hope to continue working in outreach and education in the future.

Find out how to apply to join the Transforming Archives programme

2 comments

  1. Amanda Brass says:

    Very impressive range of activities! Does the archive film any of the events or projects?

    1. Lizzie Figura-Drane says:

      Hi Amanda,
      Thank you for your comments.
      We don’t film any of our events or projects at the Norfolk Record Office but we do take photos for publicity purposes. You can find out more about our events and projects through our social media channels https://www.facebook.com/norfolkrecordoffice, https://twitter.com/NorfolkRO and http://www.norfolkrecordofficeblog.org

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