Croydon Council


Lindsay Ould - Borough Archivist

Lindsay Ould became Borough Archivist at Croydon after a career change from IT later in life that saw her go to university at the same time as her kids.

Lindsay talks about the archives building a sense of place for the diverse communities in her native Croydon. She explains how her previous experience as a researcher helps her understand the needs of users and how engagement with users from different Croydon communities informs the archives work.

Lindsay discusses how being in the same team as the museum and libraries has led to the archives contributing to a wide range of exhibitions and online digital projects reflecting the depth and diversity of both the collections and the communities the archive serves.

She also tells us about her impressive portfolio of TV appearances with the archive.


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Please Note: This is an automated, machine-generated transcription. We have presented this 'as is' and have not undertaken any editing.

Hello and welcome to the Max Communications 2020 podcast a series of podcasts where we explore various archives and collections my name is Faith Williams and i'm joined today by Lindsay Ould borough archivist for Croydon council would you like to introduce yourself and tell us about how you came into your position thank you very much faith so yes I've been at Croydon about five and a half years i'm the only qualified archivist in the the team so it's quite an interesting role before that i worked at king's college London i was the digital archivist first and that all came about that was a change of career later in my life to i've been working in it and records management and decided i really wanted to work in the archive side so at the age of 50 i went back to university along the same time as my children and i did my training course and i've been really lucky working two amazing jobs since then so yeah i'm really proud i'm a Croydonia and i was born and bred in Croydon so it's great to be the borough archivist and look after its records oh what a fantastic career path you really landed on your feet working in in the the place you call home yes yeah it was amazing i was so lucky i knew the arc of it there very well and when he was moving on he suggested that i might like to to think about working back there so my commute was much easier and i've just got a chance to really work with all the things that i've known the changes i've seen growing up and so it's yeah been a great job to do i'm really enjoying it you must bring a wealth of information just from your own experience to the job then yeah it's certainly a big advantage there was a big gap there was an 18 month gap before i took up my role and so i came in to a collection that actually i knew quite well as a researcher from the other side of the the desk and so that has really been useful and when someone comes in asking about a particular area i usually know where it is or what they're talking about and so it's been great to put that local knowledge into place and it's interesting working with the other staff within the team who don't live locally or haven't lived locally that that difference so it is a real real benefit i'm really lucky to have that that personal experience as well as the professional experience so what do you do in your job day-to-day then so one of the interesting things about being borough archivist is that you're a bit of a jack-of-all-trades and particularly in in this team so we're a very small team there's only six seven of us in the team and so i've really found it interesting to be part of a muse team as well because it means that i can bring some of my archival experience to working alongside the muse professionals and so that's been really interesting to to be part of of that so yeah my day-to-day role will be certainly at the moment it's very different because we're in lockdown but normally when we're open to the public it'll be dealing with remote inquiries getting more and more remote inquiries because people either can't travel or want to do their research from the conference of their own home so we get those sort of inquiries that have to be dealt with each day it might be dealing with some volunteers who come in to work with me so i have a couple of ongoing projects i'm really interested in theatre and culture and the arts side of things and so we've been doing a couple of projects we have the fairfield halls in Croydon which was closed for for three years for refurbishment and we had hlf funding to work with people who'd been there stewards seeing people to their seats and they came to work on the archives and we worked for that for over three years with them and i still have some of their volunteers who want to continue so we're doing some work on what i call the lost fiestas of Croydon so they've been going through we had a couple of fiestas that closed down in the late 1950s and we have a lot of their programs so they've been going through and documenting those identifying the the well-known actors and things who started their life in repertory theatre and Croydon so they've been helping me do some work on on those i've got one volunteer who's in his 90s who remembers going to some of those shows so that's been amazing i might be working with a group of school children coming in who wants to know a bit about what life was like during world war ii and doing an archive session with them i might be working with increasingly we're working with television companies who want to use some of our pictures and archives so we just worked on who do you think you are so that'll be interesting to see that as it comes through we worked previously on one with warwick davis which was great fun to do and they actually filmed it in our building in the town hall so i was involved in that we've worked on George clark's old house new home so we've provided some background images and things for that so we work increasingly maybe artists who want to do pieces want to respond i've got someone working who wants to do a response piece to cane hill mental hospital so it might be meeting up with them and showing them some of the archives of a now closed hospital and they can use to respond to a brief that they've got it might be dealing with the national archives it might be mentoring some new students coming in i have some volunteers who are applying to do a course and who would like to get some experience so they come to me beforehand so yeah so it could be very very varied and or working on my own project so some research about something doing a blog and obviously everything has to go online at the moment so we're pushing everything to online exhibitions and things like that of course you've got so much going on that's incredible so your material is local because it's from the borough what type of things do you have what what format is it in and what does it content does it cover so most of our material is still traditional paper so it'll be the the main core of our collection so mine's a statutory role with the local authority so it's to look after the records of the what is now the London borough of Croydon and its predecessor authorities the county borough and the borough of Croydon to look after the board of guardians records so that would a bit that's the you know the predecessor to the hospitals and social care and things like that so we have those records Croydon was a county borough so it ran its own hospitals so i've got records of the hospitals and the mental hospitals in Croydon i've also got quite a lot i'm not a place of deposit so i don't have church records those will go to surrey history center but i do have some of the more the administrative records of Croydon parish which was the the main area that Croydon covers now so that'll be the the rate books when the parish system looked after those things so i'll have those i'll have i'll then have a lot of records of local organizations the bell foundry that was in Croydon the quite an advertiser so the newspaper that's been going since the 1860s so i'll have those on microfilm but i'll also have a lot of their records so i've got off their administrative books and things like that so we know how that was run and then i have a lot of personal collections of people so i'll have collections of the mayors of Croydon or businesses or i've got a couple of conscientious objector collections which are really interesting people who are in Croydon one of the main things about the muse of Croydon is it collects all histories and so we have quite a lot of people come to us and give us and give us their stories and then in discussing with their stories they'll say we've got family records or we'd like you to have some information about the the businesses that we ran and so so we get a real good mixture and we get their actual voices which is lovely to hold with them so although there's their own muse collection i work very closely with that and then i'll also have i have a really good collection of school records probably one of the best collections of school records in the country because we had a previous director of education who was really interested in local history and as part of his role as he was coming up to retirement he wandered around all the schools and documented all their log and admission registers and brought them in so i've got over 150 sets of school registers some of which have been digitized and are on find my past as part of a project done with the national archives which was really useful and those are really useful for people wanting to find out where their ancestors went but things like the love books are really interesting because they're the head teachers diaries so particularly when a lot of the national schools started in the 1870s we have some of our very early schools that started then and so we have details of they wrote in love beautiful copperplate writing about when the inspectors came about what happened about all the examinations that their children had had gone through and those have proved really interesting for things like we use them for evacuation research recently when we looked at 80 years since evacuation and in fact we worked with some country file who were doing evacuation special and one of their presenters steve brown his grandmother was evacuated from Croydon to first Brighton and then to Cornwall and we were able to find her details in the book and i actually had a little cameo on country fire last september talking to him about that and and showing the the records and we were able to incorporate that in some of the events that we ran so they're just many and and varied and yeah i've been there five and a half years but i've only just scratched the surface about what's actually in them and every now and then you open up a box to look for something and find something that you weren't looking for at all that just takes you off on another sort of research trail which is lovely that is a treasure trove it is how big is the collection so we have over we have about 1200 collections now some of those might be one item some might be 50 or or 100 items so i think it's about oh i've got so about 8 000 individual items that most of which are on our online catalogue but a large nber we're still working to try and get through the backlog and get as much as possible up onto the catalogue and they hosted at the muse then so they're hosted on remotely on the cloud so we use atom and we were one of the first record officers in in the uk to use atom and we find it really good it works really well and it's there to be searched muse of Croydon and so it's a treasure trove to go through and to see what you can find are there any particular challenges that you encounter in your job a lot we work in a an old building that we share with other people so our building is part victorian and actually part was a new build in the 1990s and so we we get problems with trying to keep the temperatures and things constant across the whole building what works for the archives doesn't work for the visitors to the library so they want the temperature up and then it affects our guys the challenges are resources there's only one of me i have two great support staff who normally would deal with our front of house visitors and a great crowd of volunteers who are many of whom are still volunteering at the moment which is great they're doing remote volunteering for us but it is a real challenge to do a bit of everything we were lucky enough to gain accreditation archives accreditation in 2017 but that's a lot of work to try and keep that good gold standard and we compete with a lot of other areas we have to be as good as areas that have many staff so that's always a bit of a a challenge increasingly people don't want to come in to visit us it's not convenient for them so they'd like everything digitized please and you can't possibly digitize everything we've been able to do some some fun small bits of digitisation i know that you guys have done some quite various project digitization for us which has been great but there's always ongoing stuff that we'd love to digitise we have an amazing photographic collection that was a photographic survey and record of surrey that was started by Croydon libraries in 1902 and we hold all the Croydon collection which is over two and a half thousand beautiful black and white photographs that we'd love to get digitized but i just have to find the right funding pot to do that so i've got to have a funding pot hat on i've got to have an i.t hat on i've got to have an art cataloguing hat on i've got to have a presentation hats on i love doing talks to people going out to to share the archives and you always find interesting people who've got interesting stories in doing doing that so the challenge is what to do first and and how to get the right balance to to do to answer people's inquiries to help them on their research but not to do the research for them and yeah it's just a great very very job i love doing it but they'll be plenty to keep me going until i retire what is your hope for the future then is it more digitization or would you like to focus on expanding your local collection or engagement i mean what what would you prioritize the main focus is to make things accessible and and in all sorts of different ways so sometimes that will be digitisation but i think it's important to to still be able to have a space to invite people into because actually to experience an archive to look at an old ledger to actually find some information is so important and i think you need to get the balance right between them i can answer someone's question but someone going through a ledger to find that information might find other information that that gives them the context of that that gives them another research that's trained to do those research skills are so important and also great for someone's well-being it's something you can really do to find a sense of place that's really important for us it's certainly important although we've got a lot of traditional archives that we work a lot with some of our community groups and that we're starting to to really understand what they collect and what basis as relevant so that we've got things that will bring different community groups in we did a really good windrush exhibition last year and we did a really good one with gujarati community and those were both great ones for bringing people in who maybe wouldn't see the value of the archives and so those sort of things are really important i want people to feel that the archives are useful to them that they can come and use them whether it's remotely or actually coming in that they can feel confident coming and spending some time it's a very good sense of well-being i think to you know to find out a bit more about your house how it where it was built how long it's been there who's lived in it and you can do all of those things using our collections and i think with people being stuck in doors for so long i think it will be really important to find ways of encouraging people to come in and spend time safely but doing some of this work and and really taking back their ownership of those their communities and their town centre and things like that i think that's going to be really important going forward so Croydon is quite a diverse borough really and it's important about it's important to reflect that and make it make it relevant to the residents very much so i mean it's really interesting i've been doing some research doing lockdown about our muse so the muse opened in 1995 and when i've been going back and looking at that it's quite late for a local authority muse there was a very early muse back in the early 1900s which was a sort of traditional muse with stuff birds and paintings and things like that but then that building wasn't suitable and there was a big gap and when they started to look at what they wanted they wanted a muse that that would be relevant to all Croydon people and so they looked very much at the diverse communities and the biggest communities that they would work with and started collecting all histories from those communities and then objects and items and things that would come in and so they work very particularly with south asian communities with some of the afro-caribbean communities and facts of the irish communities there's quite a big irish community in Croydon there now that will have changed slightly over the years and we're now starting to look back up what are the breakdowns now interesting there was a big polish community after the second world war a lot of the pilots who flew and made their homes back in Croydon there were three raf stations around us at kenley at big and hill and at Croydon and so you know we got gained quite a large polish community at that stage and so in fact the library had special collection of books in polish for them which is interesting which i found as we've been looking through so you know we've always tried to to reflect the Croydon communities and and actually we've been extremely lucky recently we've gained some funding from the mayor of london he has his london borough culture pot of money and Croydon's been awarded london borough culture of 2023 and so it's starting to do its planning now and it's starting to look at all its communities and what it wants to do now is to look at 23 the 23 largest communities in Croydon and look at what art and archives and objects and things reflect their background so that's a project that we're just asking the planning stages now for and starting to think about how that will develop and how we'll identify those 23 groups and what sort of people will be able to work with which community groups will be able to work with and so that's a really exciting project but we're starting in the planning by now how closely do you work with the muse so very i'm part of the muse team so i'm managed by we have a muse and archives manager so i'm part of that team now and then very closely with the libraries as well who are so we're all in working very closely together and that brings its real benefits to it so i have my own programme of work but that's dictated by our accreditation cycles but but a lot of it is about so all my exhibitions for example i was used to the e-day exhibition in may so that had to we had to suddenly move back on online and get that on online so i was supported by my colleagues there in doing that i provided the content and they helped me put some of it online and we'll then be putting a new victory in japan day exhibition up for next month so so very closely we're part of the same team now and we we work alongside each other and there are great benefits to working with a muse professional and an archive professional together we both gain a lot from it and i feel as an archivist i've gained a lot from being involved in exhibitions helping them research them understanding how to mount exhibitions which i was new skills to me when i started so it's been a yeah it's really good we're very close to him because we're quite a small team and it works very well well it's nice it's worked out really well i think sometimes people think that you're in competition but it's not you've got the same goals in mind don't you yeah and we've been able to work with i've i i covered the managerial world for a year two years ago and that allowed me to develop some exhibitions work and and we had started an artist in residence programme and that was really useful but as through that we worked with an artist who wanted to put on an lgbt exhibition and he's the he's then gone on to do a second set of exhibitions with us and we're working on a queer archive with him at the moment trying to really bring archives from that community in and make it much more comprehensive archive and we worked with a phd student who was doing a project on a Croydon staff project who we don't hold the archives before they're held at the women's library but we were able to work with the women's library and research that and that so that's built up much more of our knowledge about those exhibitions and we've been able to do she did an exhibition for us about this suffragette so yeah that really brings those archives to life for me if we can really use them and artists can use them we can use them in an exhibition we've just done a project with an external group we've worked with before using our film so we have some really good film of Croydon that goes back to the 1900s i've got a lovely film about london fire brigade doing their activities in 1911 and so these little silent films and we just were taking the water films and recording new memories from people who grew up during the war and making a new soundtrack to go over them so those have just been launched and those we worked with london screen archives on that so that was great to have to have we had i think 10 people from the last we did it in two phases from the last stage all over 80 all who had memories of growing up during the war and captured their memories and then we've got their recordings that we've just transcribed and so those can then go back to their families and they can really understand them that they also really bring that wartime period to life do you have plans to put some of this stuff up on on website available online yeah so quite a lot of it there's so the the queer archive a lot of that work is up going up at the moment that's just gone live last week at the ve day exhibition the films are all up on our website so you can do those and with the picture in japan day in august there'll be some new pages and new stuff there we're we've invited blogs from from various people so i was just talking to the artist who did the suffragette exhibition with us and she'll do a blog for us next month so that will go up and we'll be able to put some of the information about that on i've got one of my volunteers working on the fairfield collection which is the all the archives from the 30th halls and she's just written a blog that will go up so we're trying to slowly add as much of this to the site as possible and then a lot of stuff onto the catalogue so that people can search and and find out more about this but yeah so lovely to share it through the the website and through twitter and facebook and instagram they're all good channels for us to to share with a wide audience and we're certainly picking up a wider audience which is interesting oh great are you getting a lot of feedback from people yeah you're getting some really good feedback and and people who are are you know engaging us more who wouldn't do and we now need to think about some of our more traditional volunt researchers and about how we can engage with them because we will many of them will want to come in and use our records again and so at the moment we're not able to open but we hope in September we'll be able to open by appointments and safely get people into the building we want to consult the original records because that's really important that they can do some detailed research which we can't do for them that sounds like you have so much going on and you're always thinking of new things to do it's really impressive how you've engaged so many people and a lot of people don't think about their own their own borough their own place where they live and the history that you can track down it's fascinating well i find it fascinating just when you start looking at an area to see how it's changed and i mean Croydon went through big changes after the war and lots of big office blocks became known as little manhattan for a long time because it had such big buildings it's now going through another stage of development at the moment and so we're trying to capture some of that current development and some of the the changes to the way people shop obviously there's a lot of changes now we have a big shopping center that was due for refurbishment that probably won't happen in the same way now going forward but it's important for people to understand the history of what used to be there it used to be the school playing field for the big grammar school in Croydon and you know people don't understand that so we've been able to put some of those pictures up online we've done a virtual pub crawl as well which has been really interesting looking at the history of the current pubs that you can drink up but also those that have disappeared and we did one on central Croydon and we're hoping to to carry on and do ones in some of our local areas and we work closely with our place team who are developing the sort of local areas because there's a lot more more focus now on getting people to shop locally and you know not to travel on public transport so we're doing some walks and trails around these areas some of the counsellors are promoting them so that's really good and getting them to really understand what their area used to be be like and and that's so yeah some exciting projects but i'm also working on one on the nursing it was the international year of the nurse and the midwife this year and so our local hospital Croydon university hospital wants to do an exhibition about some of their current nurses and midwives and we've got some information about some of the historical ones and we'll be putting up an exhibition about the hospitals in Croydon because we have good records and and pictures of those hospitals so that's my next job to work on and and to get that moving forward ready for hopefully the beginning of September that will go live that sounds a very worthy project especially this year yeah yeah lovely to celebrate those amazing places and the people who worked in them it would be really really good to do thank you so much for agreeing to speak to me today Lindsay you're clearly so knowledgeable about your subject matter is so enthusiastic i can't wait to check out what you have next i'll definitely have a look at your cultural pub crawl certainly so we yeah we'd like to welcome you and anyone else once we're able to open our doors and we hope that'll be in in the autism by appointments and slowly we'll be able to get back to to offering much more access but in the meantime keep an eye on the twitter, facebook, instagram and the website and search for the catalogs lots of ways to to find out more about Croydon fantastic thank you for speaking to me you're very welcome thank you.