How the Arts and creativity have been used to increase access at the Derbyshire Record Office.
Written by Karen Millhouse
Archivist at Derbyshire Record Office
26 March 2018

If anyone looked at my office diary over the past couple of years you would think my job was ‘Event Planner’. From talks and workshops, book launches, symposiums, tours to children’s’ craft days, I have organised them all. I am, in fact, an Archivist and work at Derbyshire Record Office (DRO).

Gamesley tents pop up archive event, for Junction Arts DCHN Blog.

The job of an archivist has changed dramatically over the last few decades. Popular belief would have you believe we are to be found in dark basements surrounded by piles of dusty old documents, busily cataloguing each to the nth degree. I’m sure, in the past, that was the life of an archivist or two – but not anymore.

Participant written tag, from the 'Pop up archive' event at Wirksworth.

The Derbyshire Record Office has experienced an overhaul of its outreach programme over the last four or five years. Being involved in outreach projects, events are now a huge part of my work. Yes we still catalogue documents which come into our collection, this way people know what we have, and people do visit us to view these documents. But what about the people who don’t know who we are, what we do and the services we offer? How do they get involved?

The records we hold span 900 years of Derbyshire’s history. They are of relevance and interest to anyone who comes from Derbyshire, lives, works, visits or has connections here. Recently, the record office has undertaken projects and events to reach out to communities who may not know about us – taking our collections out to them.

The Amazing Pop Up Archives Project (Pop Up for short), funded by the Heritage Lottery Find, did just that. At four events over one year our project team, made up of archivist, creative facilitators (poet, musician, choreographer, storyteller), university lecturers and interns, local school students, and users of the record office, took our collections across the county and ‘popped up’ at events. Events included a car boot sale, a local community day and a music festival. We wanted to reach out to young people and their families and grabbing their attention at existing events meant they didn’t have to come especially to see us.
Why would they if they don’t yet know who we are?

Story telling at Wirksworth pop up archives event
Story telling at Wirksworth pop up archives event, for Junction Arts blog

The project was a huge success, raising awareness of the record office’s collections and collecting the stories of those we met along the way to add to the project’s own archive.

I was delighted to speak about the project at the first Derbyshire Creative Heritage Conference last October. The ‘creative’ aspect was crucial in the success of Pop Up, with our creative facilities bringing collections to life in the form of characters, original poems, songs and stories all inspired by the archives. The conference was a great way to share our experiences.

Having an idea for a project or just an idea that you’d like to ‘do something’ with your collection can be equally as daunting as it is exciting. Where do you start? If you don’t have contacts how do you find the people that can help? Conferences such as the Derbyshire Creative Heritage Conference are invaluable at offering opportunities to meet people, share experiences and, importantly, be inspired.

I’d like to thank Junction Arts for hosting such a great conference, the range of speakers and attendees highlighted the great work that is being carried out in our county. There were lots of people to speak to, share ideas with and be inspired by. I ended the day thoroughly motivated and re-energised to carry on the work we are doing at DRO. I’ll certainly be putting my name down to attend the next conference.

For more on The Amazing Pop Up Archive Project see the DRO blog:

Derbyshire Record Office Blog for Junction Arts Derbyshire Creative Heritage Network

Karen Millhouse works as an Archivist at Derbyshire Record Office in Matlock with particular responsibility for the service’s outreach and community engagement programme.