Interpretation and community engagement planning – Archives+

Janice Tullock Associates was responsible for researching and developing the Activity and Interpretation Plan for Manchester’s Archives+, an award-winning project which brought together collections from five partners into one space.

Archives+ formed an integral part of the Manchester Central Library and Town Hall Complex Redevelopment Programme. With £1.5m funding, Archives+ brought together and integrated Manchester’s varied archive heritage from a number of partners across the city, creating new ways for communities to engage with their local and family history.

Janice worked with associates Emma Parsons and Jane Davies as part of the team who developed the project’s Stage 2 bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF, now known as the National Lottery Heritage Fund). We were responsible for researching and developing the Activity and Interpretation Plan, which delivered a targeted programme of activity to support HLF’s priorities around participation and learning.

Together with key stakeholders, we carried out a programme of consultation with the target audience groups to understand how they wanted to interact with the collections. In particular, we were aiming to engage more with the young people who used the library, and to bring in a more diverse audience from the area. The ground-breaking project also sought to broaden the collections, encouraging groups who hadn’t engaged with the archives before to deposit their own collections, enriching the representation of Manchester’s communities within the space.

Archives+ saw a move away from the ‘reading room and ad hoc exhibition’ approach more traditionally taken by archive services. Instead, it created a major new exhibition space and heritage destination that offers different ways to interact with the archives. This took the form of a series of exhibition spaces, learning programmes and community outreach that helped reach out to a wider audience than ever before. We worked closely with Mather & Co, who delivered the interpretation and exhibition design, making sure that the interpretation and activities genuinely met (and was responsive to) the needs of the audiences.

Archives+ opened to acclaim in September 2014, having achieved everything it set out to. Public engagement increased by up to 700%, more families and young people began engaging with the archives, and the peak age for user engagement shifted from 26-59 year olds, to 6-10 year olds (with 26-59 year olds coming in second).

From the outset, we knew that key stakeholders needed to have ownership of the Activity and Interpretation Plan so that it could be sustainable beyond the lifespan of the initial funding. We’re thrilled to say that many parts of the plan have since been mainstreamed by the library.

Archives+ Manager Kevin Bolton (who deemed the plan “excellent”) noted that “importantly, it is a document that we can use. It was also good that we were able to ‘tailor’ the plan so that it was something that would work within our organisation”. He also praised Janice Tullock Associates for the way we worked, particularly highlighting that we “got the right balance of listening to the client, but also pushing us in the right direction!”.

Years on, we remain particularly proud of our part in this project, and continue to watch the work of Archives+ with interest!

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