“It’s not therapy – its opportunity” – Dave (archive volunteer).
It all started with a radio show, discussing the skills needed for online job assessments. Some companies had actually begun to use dating apps, as they highlighted a major skill that employers valued – the ability to get on with other people. Which, of course, is not so easy to do when you’ve been unemployed for a while, have challenges with your mental wellbeing, and haven’t interacted with people for a while.
‘Being yourself’ is harder than it sounds when you’ve forgotten who that is…
So we set up a scheme for people to refresh their old skills and maybe learn some new ones, using our archive material for inspiration. It wasn’t complicated – we contacted a friendly local GP who helped us recruit some volunteers who were long-term unemployed or who had mental health issues, and who had never visited an archive before.
Why did we want to? For one thing, social prescribing is a great idea. According to the Social Prescribing Network, it’s cost-effective for the NHS, popular with the participants and good for the community.
And Marjon was in an ideal position to get involved – we’re known for our strong community links, we had an archive full of great material for inspiration, and we were keen to reach new audiences who might never come into an archive otherwise.
What did we do? We asked them to choose a topic from the archive that they felt a connection to, and to find a way to share it, keep it safe and for other people to be able to find it again. Not exactly HOW to archive, but something about WHY. The only other ‘rule’ was that each individual project had to link to at least one other.
And so “The ‘Connected Catalogue’ was born – a collaborative, volunteer-led project, exploring the role of archives to enhance wellbeing, employability and social interaction.
The plan was to provide an opportunity to work on transferable skills – project management, teamworking, communication, information handling, presentation.
What we didn’t anticipate were the unexpected benefits. Volunteers reported marked improvements in health and wellbeing including weight loss, fewer and less medications, raised mood. And confidence – through doing something that they valued and felt they were valued for.
They also began applying for, and getting, jobs and training. 17 of the original 30 were in some form of paid employment or training 6 months after their leaving the project.
The archive benefitted in lots of ways – through new connections and collaborations within and outside of the institution. A significant proportion of the collection was cleaned, packaged and photographed by the volunteers – who at full capacity were contributing 22 hours a week – 4.5 hours more than the archive assistant contracted hours of 17.5, not counting the additional research they did after hours.
And we all benefitted from the diversity and creativity of their outputs – talks, pamphlets, blogs, exhibitions, flowcharts and a ‘rough guide to getting started in the archives’ – but most of all from the fresh perspectives they brought to the archive material.
The scheme is still running (online at the moment, thanks to Covid…) but we’re looking forward to seeing each other in person soon for the all-important brew and biscuits.
And for the shared laughter – which is the best medicine of all.