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National Library of Wales Wins Prestigious ARA Archive Volunteering Award

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‘Helping us to Achieve’, the National Library of Wales’ (NLW) scheme to expand access to Wales’ national archives by developing a cadre of skilled volunteers, has won the prestigious national Archive Volunteering Award for 2016.

Sponsored by the Archives and Records Association (UK & Ireland) and sector partners, this annual award recognises outstanding work involving volunteers within an institutional archive service.

The judges voted ‘Helping us to Achieve’ the clear winner. The scheme has been engaging with volunteers since 2012, including all ages and backgrounds, in the belief that taking part in cultural activity can boost skills, engagement, self-esteem and aspiration.

The scheme also enhances participants’ workplace and social skills and helps make NLW’s national collections more accessible to a wider audience. The scheme has targeted specific groups – the young and economically inactive and older people – and the roles filled by the volunteers have included transcribing text, creating databases, digitising, research, conservation tasks and public presentations.

The judges said:

“’Helping us to Achieve’ was the stand-out nomination in a very strong field. In 2015-‘16 alone, 65 project volunteers took part in the scheme, volunteering the equivalent of over 1,000 days of their time.

“They completed 10 projects and tasks, another 10 are still in progress and 769 online volunteers also participated in ‘Cynefin’, a ground-breaking project to geo-reference Wales’s Tithe Maps.

“‘Helping us to Achieve’ has involved wide community collaboration and support, a diverse range of volunteers and benefitted from professional archive staff support at the National Library, as well as top-management backing. The scheme has also delivered at an individual level: around 20% of the volunteers have moved on to paid employment.”

The judges also commended the many partners involved in the winning scheme, which included Jobcentre Plus, The Shaw Trust, Ceredigion Community Mental Health Team, Ceredigion Association of Voluntary Organisations, Welsh Council for Voluntary Action, Aberystwyth University, Ceredigion County Council social services department, NLW’s Friends Association, The ‘Cynefin’ Project (a collaboration between the Archives and Records Council Wales and NLW) and People’s Collection Wales.

The winning volunteers will receive their award on November 4 in Aberystwyth in the run-up to the launch of the annual, national Explore Your Archive campaign.

Archives and Records Association’s chair, Geoff Pick, said: 

“Archives contain the raw material of our past, individually and collectively. They are hugely diverse, comprising thousands of deposits across the public, private and voluntary sectors, from big corporations and government bodies to community holdings.

“They depend on skilled and dedicated professional staff as well as the many volunteers for their upkeep, transcription, cataloguing and accessibility. When we see inspiring projects like ‘Helping us to Achieve’, we are also reminded how our archives and the skills needed to manage them, can stimulate and motivate people in the wider community to open up new opportunities in their own lives.”

One volunteer on ‘Helping us to Achieve’ said:

“Through the experience I have made friends with some lovely and like-minded people. This has given me a lot of confidence – I don’t feel intimidated by the workplace – I feel I belong.”

Another commented:

“I have completed nearly three-and-a-half years of volunteering. During that time, I have thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I like the general atmosphere of quiet and calmness. This is important to me because my epilepsy is mostly stress related.

“I am not sure if my new-found confidence is helping my epilepsy, but my slight improvement in health is increasing my confidence.”

Linda Tomos, national librarian of Wales, said:

“We are thrilled and honoured to receive this prestigious award. I am delighted that the strong partnership between our volunteers, staff and our supporting partners to make our national archives more accessible has been recognised as an exemplar.

“NLW is committed to developing this innovative approach which is actively helping people to improve their quality of life and obtain workplace skills as well as learning more about our culture and heritage.”

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