Hello all, it’s Jen here, Digital Volunteering Project Officer for CrowdCymru. Here follows an update on the progress of our amazing digital archives volunteering project. We are funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and run jointly by Gwent Archives, Glamorgan Archives, and Cardiff University Special Collections & Archives.

This is the fourth in a series of posts, to read the previous three, just go to the Archives and Records Council Wales website and pop CrowdCymru in the search box.

Well now, what a busy time we’ve had, here at CrowdCymru HQ! Firstly, we have been extended! Our initial 12-month run was due to end mid-July, but we successfully applied for an extension and will now continue through until the end of November. We are all thrilled with this extra time and plan to do great things so watch this space.

Our volunteers smashed through the Edward Thomas Literary Archive, transcribing just under 500 of his letters in a few months and are currently transcribing nine war time diaries written by Priscilla Scott-Ellis. Daughter of the 8th Lord Howard de Walden, Priscilla was brought up in the luxury of Belgrave Square, London and Chirk Castle, Wexham. As mentioned in the last post, what makes her exceptional is that she volunteered as a nurse during both the Spanish Civil War and WWII. Moreover, whereas her Spanish Civil War diaries were posthumously published in 1995 as The Chances of Death: Diary of the Spanish Civil War, her WWII diaries have never been published, making this a very important transcription project.

Image of handwritten text from the diary of Priscilla Scott-Ellis. A notable sentence reads “we are at war!”
Diary of Priscilla Scott-Ellis, “we are at war!” [Cardiff University Special Collections & Archives]

Our volunteers are also working through two photographic collections, tagging, and describing the images. The Cardiff Dockland Community Collection consists of portraits of individuals and groups including women and children, from the Cardiff dockland community, taken between 1900-1920. This area was commonly known as “Tiger Bay” and became one of the UK’s first multicultural communities with people from over 50 countries, including Somalia, Yemen, and Greece, settled here by the outbreak of the First World War, working in the docks and allied industries. The Newport Rugby & Athletic Archive charts the history of the club and contains images of groups and teams, committee members, sports days and early 1900s images of people skating on frozen lakes and diving into the Fourteen Locks Canal!

A black and white photograph of people skating on a frozen lake in the 1900's
Skating on the ice circa early1900s, Newport Rugby & Athletics Archive [Gwent Archives]

#CrowdCymru community numbers are growing, we now have 90 volunteers on the books and in June celebrated Volunteers Week with a series of online socials where we talked about the project and generally put the world to rights.  

I’ve been out and about spreading the word and in June spoke at the Monmouthshire Antiquarian Association AGM which was held at The Church of St. Stephen & St. Tathan in Caerwent, possibly the prettiest location yet.

I also conducted a few Cardiff based workshops that went very well indeed. They were organised by Cardiff Wellbeing Support Service who were established to boost the health and wellbeing of the community and ease some of the negative impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Their aim is to provide opportunities to help as many people as possible as since the start of the pandemic more people are experiencing mental health challenges, social isolation and loneliness and anxiety around leaving the home. When I contacted them asking if they might be interested in the project as something their members might enjoy, they were very enthusiastic. Their Volunteer Coordinator [the wonderful Emma] arranged everything, even down to providing refreshments and joining in with the workshop herself. The care they take to ensure their members wellbeing is outstanding and I’m very happy that we are currently organising more workshops.

I also attended two events, the first was a Dementia Awareness Day at St Fagans Museum of National History back in May.  It was run in conjunction with Dementia Action Week and organised by Amgueddfa Cymru’s Museums Inspiring Memories Project and attended by lots of brilliant organisations including Alzheimers Society Cymru, Ty Hapus, Welsh Ambulance Services, Dewis Cymru and Age Cymru. I spent the day with representatives from these organisations learning about the work they do and was also able to interact with some groups brought from care homes by showing them photographs and asking questions. I met one very elderly lady with bad eyesight who understandably was dismissive when I held one of the Cardiff Dockland Community photographs out to her. But once her carer had explained, I described the image to her. Her face immediately brightened, and she began to talk about how she remembered the immigrants who arrived in Tiger Bay and how they were seen as different in what they wore and how they spoke. She remembered animosity and suspicion but more so that her mother went out of her way to be friendly and kind, telling her to do the same in the school playground. That really was a highlight of the day.

A photograph of Jen Evans, Project Manager, standing behind a table with a display of items for the CrowdCymru project
Table at Dementia Information Day, St Fagans Museum of National History in May [author’s image]

My second event was at Insole Court’s Heritage Day back mid-July. Footfall was a little quiet, hampered by torrential rain coupled with the Wimbledon Ladies Singles Final but it was still a great day. Lots of curiosity in all the photographs on my table and a few new volunteers signing up there and then on the spot! I also got to walk around the mansion and gardens and learnt some of the fascinating history of the Insole family.

Oh, and I recorded my first podcast! The Archives & Records Association  have recorded lots of fascinating interviews from people who work with archives for their Out the Box series. As part of Volunteer Week, they recorded some volunteering specials and Crowd Cymru was one of them, you can listen to the episode here.

And finally, do you remember me telling you about Liz Davis in my last post? Liz is one of our volunteers who was so inspired by the Edward Thomas and Priscilla Scott-Ellis collections that she included them in her work towards an MA in Fine Art at Hereford College of Art [HCA]. Volunteering for Crowd Cymru has been part of her exploration of archive and memory, and the way past lives are preserved and recorded. Since I last posted, Liz invited me to join her in presenting her work to her local Women’s Institute [Llandenny & District Group] meeting. After I had explained about the project to the group, Liz introduced her art project as being sparked into life through working on Crowd Cymru and looking back into her own personal family archive. Combining this volunteering experience and trying to work out how to tell her own family stories by creating her own “archive” she decided to create a series of zines, a way of self-publishing used through the last century by fans and anarchists, feminists, and others to communicate shared interests and passions.

A photograph of Jen Evans, Project Manager, and Liz Davis
Liz Davis and I attend the Llandenny & District Women’s Institute meeting 9 June 2023 [author’s image with permission from Liz Davies]

Her art practice, interest in archives, and involvement with Crowd Cymru serendipitously coalesced in the creation of her first zine, driven by material from the life of Edward Thomas [and his wife, Helen] and Priscilla Scott-Ellis. The theme of the evening was ‘From Archive to Zine’ and covered what Liz had learned from volunteering specifically concerning the authors of the work contained in the collections she had transcribed and the practices of the archivists who select, conserve, and protect these physical objects. She invited the group to consider the decision process around what material makes it into the hallowed perpetuity of an “archive”. ​​ Next, we explored zine making as an alternative method to get our memories heard, our own personal collections, our photographs and family ephemera. ​​

A photo of three Zines created by Liz Davies
Zines created by Liz Davis [author’s image with permission from Liz Davies]

Liz had created three beautiful A4 size paper zines and one of them tells the story of her maternal and paternal grandparents and while we looked through the pages of these beautiful objects, she told us their stories.  A workshop followed where each person was given a sheet of paper with eight questions to answer concerning one of our grandmothers. Once we answered the first question, the page was folded so that answer was hidden, and we passed the sheet to the person on our left. Then we answered the second question [from the sheet of paper handed to us from that person on our right] folded the page so that answer was hidden and passed it on, and this continued until all questions had been answered. Once completed, there were 27 sheets each containing eight answers from multiple sources. ​Liz explained that the object of this exercise was to create new archival material for her next zine that will be based around the idea of a “universal grandmother”. Liz’s work was also displayed as part of the Futures Unknown Exhibition [in celebration of the MA in Fine Art HCA] at the Canwood Gallery in July 2023.

It’s difficult putting into words how impressed, proud, and moved I was by the whole evening. Liz and I had been discussing her work via email for weeks but only by listening to her speak and watching her interact with the group was I able to fully appreciate the scope and depth of her project. Moreover, it inspired me to consider my own family archive and some creative projects I might implement in the future.

That’s all for this round-up, make the most of these last days of summer, we’ll be in the depths of winter before we know it!

Jennifer Evans
Digital Volunteering Project Officer / Swyddog Prosiect Gwirfoddoli Digidol

Twitter: CrowdCymru
Phone: 01495 742450
Email: jennifer.evans@gwentarchives.gov.uk

This blog post titled #CrowdCymru: Project Update by Jennifer Evans is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

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