CollabArchive, a digital volunteering project based at the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI), concluded last week with an event showcasing the range of creative outputs developed by volunteers in response to the official archives.
Funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund’s Digital Skills for Heritage initiative, the collaborative project between Nerve Centre and PRONI has engaged over 50 volunteers with archive heritage in the last 18 months.
Across five thematic areas, including women’s history, migration, disability, citizenship and LGBTQ+, the skills-based project developed new volunteering opportunities for underrepresented audiences, extending and enhancing the value of archives to those who traditionally have not engaged with them.
Volunteers got to grips with archives around which they had a particular resonance and created a range of new creative responses such as animations, short films, podcasts and an interactive exhibition. After realising the potential held in the archives, volunteers have gone on to help transcribe, digitise and catalogue diaries from Roberta Hewitt, letters from the Cara Friend archive, emigrant letters and asylum records.
CollabArchive has helped inform a new approach to digital volunteering at PRONI, developing a sustainable model that supports new and non-traditional participation with the archives.
Jennifer McCrea, a volunteer working on the Roberta Hewitt project, said: “I found it absolutely wonderful because I literally got lost in the archives. It is so interesting reading the diaries, looking at all sorts of documents and manuscripts — it really was a wonderful opportunity. The range of people they introduced us to were superbly chosen to help us familiarise ourselves with conservation, digitising, analysis of the archives and making them accessible to so many.”
Creative responses produced by the participants and the records that have been digitised through the project are available to view at www.collabarchive.org and will also be made accessible through PRONI’s e-catalogue, ensuring the legacy of the volunteers’ work is sustained.
Patricia Corbett, Committee Member of The National Lottery Heritage Fund in Northern Ireland, said: “Thanks to National Lottery players, the CollabArchive project has given people the opportunity to explore heritage and make it digitally accessible. The energy, enthusiasm and digital innovation that this project has created is a positive boost for heritage and the volunteer participants who learnt new skills and made new connections.”
For more information on the project visit www.collabarchive.org.