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UCL Special Collections create memories with a local primary school

9 July 2018

Edith Neville Primary School

What do a new school, tales of The Gruffalo and stacks of unlisted archives have in common? myUCL Student Journalist Robert Vilkelis finds out after spending time with the UCL Special Collections team. 

UCL Special Collections – what you might know about them is how they care for vast collections of unique documents, priceless photographs, rare books and one-of-a-kind manuscripts. 

Their local outreach work? Now that you might know a little less about – until now.

In the last year, UCL Special Collections Education Coordinator Vicky Price, and Helen Biggs (Assistant Librarian: Outreach), have teamed up with Museum of London Archaeology and Edith Neville Primary School just across Euston Road in Somers Town.

In the midst of teaching, the school has been going through a total rebuild. Sometimes it can be hard to see what’s “ours” being knocked down – so how do you deal with transition, and how do you preserve the past?

The mystery of the unlabelled archives

Imagine finding yourself presented with a stack of blank boxes. Open them up, and you discover that they’re filled with assorted papers, pictures and books. History!

What do you look for? What do you discover, and how do you interpret it? How do you piece together the past? Wait a minute. Is this a birth certificate that says “Gruffalo Jr.” on it?

As a “junior archivist”, this is the very task Vicky would’ve put you up to.

In truth, these boxes are filled with Gruffalo scrapbooks, “Forest Café” menus with tasteful items like “snake on toast”, and statements about admiration for a courageous mouse.

“It’s all about exploring the concept of archives and archaeology through fun creative workshops,” Vicky will tell you.

What’s this whole exploration for, then? “Creating content for the school’s time capsule, which will be buried on the new site.”

Embedding the old in the new

Through pupils working together as a class, and classes working together as a school, Edith Neville students are in the midst of creating their own personal “class archives”, leading up to the creation of a time capsule. 

What do you keep for the future? How do you keep it? What do you need to include so people really understand its significance? This process started with the spirit of exploration, and now it has become a collective search to capture an expression of what it means to be Edith Neville students in 2018.

The time capsule’s installation is likely to be within this upcoming autumn or spring, when it will come to rest in the new building.

The road ahead

“We are making efforts to share the riches of the UCL’s collections with audiences who would otherwise not be able to enjoy them.”

UCL Special Collections is doing outreach work all the time, partnering with other institutions to make UCL’s unique and vast collections, philosophies and learnings more accessible left and right.

With Edith Neville, it all started with a conversation with one of the school’s governors. On campus, you can find UCL Special Collection items in the many exhibitions on campus (the Main Library, the Octagon Library, the Cloisters and beyond).

Evening talks, evening classes and fun activities for families and young people are all in the works; “[we want] more people to be able to access and enjoy the collections in creative, interesting ways.”

Keep an eye out for your opportunities in the coming months. How will you immerse yourself in UCL’s special collections?

Would you like to get involved in future projects? Come see UCL Special Collections at the Museums & Heritage UCL Volunteering fair on 23 October 2018.