Sound and vision blog

10 December 2019

Unlocking Our Sound Heritage hubs digitise 10,000 recordings

BBC Radio Leicester broadcasts fronted by archaeologist Alan McWhirr, a ground-breaking oral history archive of the lives of ordinary Mancunians, historical recordings relating to the countries of the British Empire and Commonwealth; these are just a few of the rich audio collections being digitally preserved through Unlocking Our Sound Heritage’s (UOSH) ten regional hubs.

Covering the length and breadth of the UK, UOSH’s ten partner organisations have been digitising and providing access to rare and unique recordings from their regions. The sound carriers holding these recordings are under increasing threat, both from physical degradation and as the means of playing them disappear from production. Responding to this threat, the British Library has been working with hubs to save as many of our audio collections as possible before they become unreadable and are effectively lost.

This week, project staff celebrated the news that UOSH hubs have successfully digitally preserved their 10,000th recording. This milestone means that 10,000 recordings have been digitised, catalogued and deposited into the British Library’s long-term digital repository, safe for listeners to enjoy in the future.

Unlocking Our Sound Heritage group photo
‘Working with the ten hub partners is one of the best things about this project and I am delighted to be celebrating this milestone’. Sue Davies, Project Manager for Unlocking Our Sound Heritage.

With most hubs only just marking their first year of being fully up and running, reaching this milestone shows positive progress towards UOSH’s ambitious goals. Hubs are a key part of the project’s efforts to expand the audio heritage sector’s capacity to care for and use audio archives. By the end of the five-year National Lottery Heritage Fund supported project, they’ll contribute 50,000 digitised recordings to UOSH’s overall target of nearly half a million sounds.

As well as preserving remarkable sounds from their regions, the hubs having been making great strides in other areas. In this blog, we’ll take a whistle-stop tour of all the hubs, sharing some of the discoveries recently unearthed in their collections. We’ll also highlight the activities taking place across the nation in digitisation studios, at public events and through social media. 

National Library of Wales
First stop, Wales. As part of the wider project of protecting the story of Wales, a country rich in customs and traditions, the National Library of Wales hub is preserving local oral history recordings, dialect surveys, Welsh pop and folk music, and more. Together with their partners in Aberystwyth, Bangor, Cardiff, Swansea and Tredegar, the team in Wales is working to ensure precious audio collections, some of which date back to the late 1800s and 1900s, are conserved as part of the country’s cultural heritage.

One of the remarkable recordings recently catalogued and digitised by the Wales hub happens to be the 10,000th preserved overall by the hubs. The recording is of a piece of music called Gobaith yfory (Hope for Tomorrow) written in 1983 for A Song for Wales, a Welsh television broadcast competition that has been running since 1969.

National Museums Northern Ireland
The Northern Ireland hub has had a refresh with new faces taking up the team’s enthusiastic outreach work. In the last few months, hub staff have been donning their UOSH t-shirts, taking sounds into the community and informing the public about digital preservation.

Recent events include workshops delivered to Cultural Heritage and Museum Studies Masters students at the University of Ulster's Belfast campus and listening sessions with the public at a ‘Mummers and Drummers’ event held at Ulster Museum.

Recordings from the Northern Ireland hub have also been inspiring new creative endeavours, including Spinning in Her Grave, a short film produced by a young people from the Reimagine Remake Replay project. Taking inspiration from recordings digitised as part of UOSH, the film reinterprets an old folk tale with new creative twists.

Aileen and Victoria from the National Museum's Northern Ireland team deliver a workshop
Setting up shop at McCusker's Pub, project staff from National Museums Northern Ireland played a selection of traditional music recordings that had been made in pubs in the 1970s and 1980s.

National Library of Scotland
Bolstered by the healthy preservation community organised under the Scotland’s Sounds network, the hub based at the National Library of Scotland was the first of UOSH’s partnership of ten, fully kitted audio preservation centres to be established.

Material recently digitised at the Scotland hub has started to surface online, including sounds of puffins on Fair Isle, Scottish ballads and oral history interviews. In one oral history clip, Isabella Porte shares her thoughts on feminism and what it meant to be ‘a feminist before the word was invented’.

University of Leicester
Based at the University of Leicester, the hub of the Midlands recently celebrated its first anniversary. Starting with recordings from the BBC Radio Leicester Archive, the Leicester hub is working on digitally preserving collections from Worcestershire, Coventry, Derbyshire, and Nottingham.

Recent blogs from hub Project Manager, Colin Hyde, delve into material from BBC Radio Leicester, which was the first BBC regional radio station in 1967. One blog features archaeologist Alan McWhirr whose radio programme, ‘Digging into the Past’, did much to promote awareness of historical and cultural landscapes.

The Keep in Brighton
The Keep, an archive centre in Brighton based at the University of Sussex, welcomed a famous visitor recently. Norman Cook, better known as Fat Boy Slim, met with the team in their digitisation studio and received a primer on the hub’s digital preservation activities.

As well as inviting people into The Keep, project staff have been heading out into the community and organising listening walks. On a recent amble on a wet Brighton day, intrepid walkers listened to natural and humanmade sounds in the open air. Returning to The Keep’s studios, the group then heard selected sounds from the UOSH archive, with the afternoon ending with a showcase of clips from the Radio Brighton collection.

This substantial collection chronicles Brighton’s broadcast and social history in the period 1968-1983. Esther Gill, Project Manager at The Keep, writes in a recent blog, ‘The recordings form a fascinating and extensive resource on life in Brighton in the period 1968-1983, and how it was reflected by a locally based radio station, with a strong sense of identity and a range of recognisable jingles’.

Bristol Culture
The team at Bristol Culture, tasked with preserving the sounds of the South West, recently published their first UOSH blog. In it, they introduce their team and cast an eye on several of the sound treasures that will be made available to the public throughout the project. These include music performances from St Pauls Carnival, jingles from the Bristol Channel TV station, and a wealth of oral history recordings from the British Empire and Commonwealth Collection.

As part of their learning and engagement activities, the Bristol hub has been reaching out to audiences through social media campaigns, including World Digital Preservation Day last month. To mark the occasion, the Bristol team walked audiences through the process of cataloguing and digitising a collection, educating audiences on how magnetic tapes degrade, how technical metadata is recorded and where digitised recordings ultimately end up.

Photo of Bristol Culture's Unlocking Our Sound Heritage team
Photo of Bristol Culture's Unlocking Our Sound Heritage team.

Archives+ in Manchester
The team based at Archives+ in Manchester have been working with the wide-ranging Manchester Studies Oral History Collection. The Manchester Studies group, then based at Manchester Polytechnic, sought to ‘record, in detail, the lives and experiences of the ordinary people who lived and worked in the area’.

Hub staff have been sharing sounds and stories from this collection, including a series of interviews with women who worked in domestic service. ‘These interviews’, writes Vicki Caren, Hub Cataloguing Manager, ‘were carried out in the mid-1970s and gave the women an opportunity to look back at their lives during a period of great social change and to reflect on attitudes towards domestic service’.

Archives+ regularly open up and share treasures from their collections for audiences to enjoy; recent blogs feature riveting oral history accounts on the North West’s cinema history, Whit Friday celebrations, and protest and activism in the early twentieth century.

Image of munitions workers clocking off work
Munitions workers clocking off work, dated 1917. Image from Manchester Libraries. Reference (m08143).

London Metropolitan Archives
The London Metropolitan Archives hub has been collaborating with institutions in and around London to deliver engaging public programmes. Recent events have included Sounds and the City: The Late Sessions, a panel discussion inspired by oral histories digitised as part of UOSH. This event explored ‘how London-based oral history projects have recorded stories of people otherwise “hidden from history”’.

LMA also recently supported The Memory Archives: Windrush event, which used different creative approaches such as food, drink and music to inspire memory among people living with dementia.

Other exciting collaborations are in the offing; in project’s final year, LMA will work together with the British Library to deliver school workshops focused on sound heritage. These sessions will seek to encourage and support young people to create their own sounds.

Norfolk Record Office
The hub responsible for collecting and digitising recordings of the East of England is based at the Norfolk Record Office. Their team recently led a walking tour of King Street, Norwich, with participants from the local area. Similar to the walking tour held at The Keep, this event encouraged audiences to engage with recorded sound in the outside environment and featured early twentieth century records of Patricia Daniels.

As well as sharing sounds outside, the Norfolk hub has been opening its doors to the public and hosting lunchtime talks. At the recent King Street Sounds event, the public was able to listen to historical recordings about life on King Street and learn about the wider work of digitally preserving the nation’s sounds.

Image of audience members at a Norfolk Record Office event
A rapt audience listens to a talk on digitised collections at Norfolk Record Office.

Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums
The team based at Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums have been busy preserving the sound heritage of the North East and Yorkshire with the help of a wonderful group of placement students. Volunteers and placement students are a huge and valuable part of the project. Our wonderful team of volunteers invest their time, talent and energy with us, helping us to make the most of our collections, developing their skills and enjoying a rewarding experience along the way.

At the North East and Yorkshire hub, three students recently completed their placements, working closely with the rich oral history collections digitised through UOSH. The blogs they’ve written as part of their placements tell the story of their adventures in the archives and share personal reflections on the archival memories of the places they call home. These stories are available to read over at the TWAM blog, along with complementary images from the collections giving colour to their words.

Find out more about Unlocking Our Sound Heritage
Unlocking Our Sound Heritage is funded by a £9.3 million grant from The National Lottery Heritage Fund, as well as generous funding from charities and individuals, including the Foyle and Garfield Weston Foundations.

Unlocking our Sound Heritage forms part of a core British Library programme Save Our Sounds, which pledges to preserve and represent the nation’s sound heritage. 

Follow project updates at @BLSoundHeritage