Community Archives Conference, Stornoway, Jun 2017

Trainee Archivist, Jennifer Marshall, received a travel bursary from the Archives and Records Association (ARA) allowing her to attend the Scottish Council on Archives conference in Stornoway.

‘Community Archives: Opportunities and Challenges’

The Community Archives conference was a two day event. Day one was a series of talks at Lews Castle and day two took us on a tour of the north of the island.

Lews Castle has recently undergone a major renovation project and now includes a purpose built archive and museum for the Hebrides, Tasglann nan Eilean and Museum nan Eilean. The archivist, Seonaid McDonald, and Skills for the Future Trainee, Shona MacLellan, were terrific hosts. As well as talking us through the establishment of the archive and its future plans, we were given a tour and shown some highlights from their growing collections.

The conference brought together academics and people working or volunteering in both professional and community run archives. Some of the talks highlighted support available to community archives, including:

  • Community Archives and Heritage Group – they have a terrific website with lots of case studies and resources. It is also free to join! Community Archives Group
  • Scotland’s Sounds – network for organisations or groups who care about preservation and access to sound archives.Scotland's Sounds
  • Partnership working with Universities. The University of Edinburgh provided a case study that combined an oral history project with ethnological research.

Other talks highlighted the wide ranging skills used by professional archivists, including case studies on:

  • Digitising the collections of the National Galleries of Scotland and National Library of Scotland – Skills for the Future trainees provided some practical insight into digitising collections.
  • Preserving digital archives and explaining metadata – Am Baile and the Highland Archive Centre.

The ‘talk of the day’ was given by Annie MacSween, founder of Comunn Eachdraidh Nis (Ness Historical Society). She gave a honest (and humorous) account of the challenges and achievements that come from setting up a community archive. CE Nis began 40 years ago, with volunteers visiting local houses and recording people’s memories as oral histories. They now have a fantastic museum, archive, shop and cafe.

On day two, Shona MacLellan took us on a guided coach tour of the north of Lewis. Our first stop was at CE Nis where Annie MacSween gave us a tour of the museum and archive. Annie then jumped on our coach and took us on a trip round the northern tip of Lewis, including a quick look at the Butt of Lewis lighthouse. She took us through various villages, showing us the communities whose heritage and collective memory is preserved by CE Nis.

After being spoilt with afternoon tea at the CE Nis cafe, our coach took us down the west coast of Lewis to Gearrannan Blackhouse Village. Now a set of restored thatched cottages hosting a living museum, this blackhouse village was originally occupied until the 1970s. We visited one cottage and tried to imagine what it must have been like to live there. The setting was stunning with views out over sandy beaches to the Atlantic. However, you would be exposed to all weather and historically the small cottages were home to both people and their livestock. In the other side of the cottage we were given a fascinating demonstration of how Harris Tweed was woven on a traditional loom.

Finally, we visited the standing stones at Callanish. It is uncertain why these stones were placed here, however, they are quite a spectacular sight. The strength it must have taken to simply lift and position these stones is incredible. On site there is also the Calanais Visitor Centre with the ‘Story of the Stones’ exhibition. This is another example of the heritage of an area being preserved and made accessible to the local community and visitors.

If you are involved in a community archive in the Stirling Council area and would like information about topics such as preservation, cataloguing or providing access please contact Stirling Council Archives for advice on how to get started.