Clevedon Pier & Heritage Trust Community Archive

Blog for the Archives for Learning and Education Section of the Archives and Records Association

In late 2017, a project began to create an archive service from the heritage material held by the Clevedon Pier and Heritage Trust.  The Trust had committed to creating a community archive as part of its HLF grant funding but also held a wide range of items which had come into its ownership over the years.  These items had never been sorted, catalogued or stored and starting the project was, jokingly, referred to as like sorting out King Tuts Tomb.

Caption:  King Tuts Tomb Before                              Captain: King Tuts Tomb After

Just over 2 years ago, an archive project was set up and got on with the work and now has around 90% of the collections stored and catalogued and is working on ‘the backlog’ as well as new items which continue to be donated to the Pier Trust’s archive.  The archive project has now become an archive service.  It is an entirely volunteer effort run by a Lead Archive Volunteer with a great team of volunteers many with relevant professional skills.   No funding was available for the archive project so a first step was to apply for, and win, a £5,000 grant to ‘get going’ and this was boosted by a second successful grant application to the Business Archive Council for £4,000 to pay for a project worker and a qualified archive advisor to undertake the work to catalogue and store the pier’s significant business collection.  The Clevedon Pier and Heritage Trust Archive Service – and the project that preceded it – has benefited hugely from the support of the National Archives Sector Development Team and membership of the Somerset Archive Group – a group of professionals working in the county who meet to share expertise.  The archive has been set up using the ARA Archive Services Accreditation Framework and the Lead Archive Volunteer is a member of the ARA.

Getting onto Social

Very early on in the archive project, the lead volunteer created a presence on social media by setting up a Facebook and Twitter account piggy backed on their personal accounts.  The aim was to inform and advise the local community what was happening, to share what was being unearthed during the project, to ask questions and engage people who have an interest in the history and heritage of Clevedon and its pier.  We are lucky to have, as one of our archive volunteers, a brilliant and much admired local historian who is also active on social media and happily shares her knowledge and expertise in heritage interpretation about the town and the pier through hers and our social media channels. 

Social Media and Lockdown

When the Covid-19 Crisis began to impact on all of our lives, Clevedon Pier had to close to the public.  All of the paid staff were furloughed and the volunteers who work on the pier stood down.  Some of the archive volunteers continued working remotely from their own homes and the lead volunteer committed to trying to use the archive’s existing social media as an outreach and engagement tool during lockdown.  It was decided to try and post something every day.  To overcome the limitations of both Facebook and Twitter a simple WordPress website was created to hold postings with more images and longer narratives than FB or Twitter supports.  The URLs from the blogs posted on www.clevedonpierarchive.com have been useful links from short postings on FB and Twitter to lead readers to more information.  There may be simpler or better ways of doing this but it was a solution that was implemented quickly and easily and cheaply and delivered what was needed.

The experience of providing learning and engagement material during lockdown has proved interesting and thanks to some of our local social media ‘big hitters’ – Facebook and Twitter sites such as Hello Clevedon, Discover Clevedon, Faces of Somerset, Bristol Archives for example – who picked up and shared our posts we have sometimes hit over 2000 interactions a day.  Being followed and retweeted by the likes of @aralearning – the Archives for Learning and Education Section of ARA – has also helped to extend our reach and, as a small volunteer archive, we are hugely grateful. 

Choosing content

The topics and content of the postings during lockdown have been varied and driven, in large part, by what the volunteers could manage to get their hands during lockdown on to share rather than any grand strategic plan on how to promote learning and education.  The archive and the building in which it is housed is shut and therefore inaccessible but individual volunteer’s access to digital and digitised material combined with a knowledge of the material that has been built up over the 3 or so years of the project has helped us to deliver social media content.  Some examples of the subjects and objects which have been featured on our ‘lockdown social media’ include:

  • Week long series of ‘ArchiveInFiveArtefacts’ – five images of artefacts with short descriptors including, for example, a model of the Waverly Paddlesteamer – a famous visitor to Clevedon Pier for many years and the beautiful brass plaque celebrated the new pier head and land stage opened in 1893.

Caption:  Scale Model Paddlesteamer Waverly    Caption:  Bronze Plaque 1893 New Pier Head Opening

  • One posting lasted over 5 days that told the story of the Pier Flagstaff from 1863 all the way through to 2020.  The flagstaff might be described as having had a life of its own and its story is intriguing. The posting drew on heritage interpretation of a range of old documents, artefacts such as the paperweight shown below, technical drawings, maps and photos donated by locals.

Caption:  Close Up of Flagstaff from 1863                             Caption:  Flagstaff illustration on Paperweight

  • Another week we shared the pages from the original specification of works to build Clevedon Pier written in 1867.  In a short, hand written 13 foolscap pages – bound together with green string – the specification includes details of how to build the foundations, decking, wrought iron legs and cast iron upper works of the pierAll ironwork and castironwork had to be painted twice or thrice but, as one of respondent said in their comment to the posting, ‘how frustrating to not know what colour paint was specified.’  The specification also includes details of The Contract and Modes of Payment. 

Caption:  Specification of Works 1867 Private Collection

Using the Clevedon Pier and Heritage Trust Archive Service for learning and education was an activity that was just about to start creeping into life as Covid-19 shut down the country.  Undaunted, the existing volunteers using the existing archive social media platforms carried on using social media during lockdown and in doing so have gained considerable expertise as well as many new online friends and supporters.

Dr Bette Baldwin, Lead Archive Volunteer, Clevedon Pier and Heritage Trust Archive

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