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The Bishopsgate Blog provides an added insight into all of our activities, Library, Courses, Events and Schools and Community Learning. Our regular blogs will feature speakers from our Cultural Events, photographs, documents, letters, posters and ephemera from the Library, up-to-date news and information on courses and first-hand accounts of our Schools and Community workshops.

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Courses Our regular blogs will provide up-to-date news and information on our courses
Events Featuring content from speakers our blogs give added insight into our events
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Library A new way to engage with the library collections and services.
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Schools and Community First hand accounts of our archive learning workshops

Schools and Community

Our inspired Schools and Community Learning programme delivers a range of workshops and projects using the unique and fascinating collections found within our world-renowned Bishopsgate Library. Our workshops are suitable for learners of all ages and are used by wide variety of audiences from primary school pupils to pensioners.

Our regular blogs will demonstrate how our Schools and Community Learning programme encourages discovery and enquiry amongst our wide-ranging participants.


Culture and arts, heritage and history, ideas and independent thought all come together in our exciting events programmes. You can enjoy talks, walks, discussions and debates, or one of the many concerts that take place throughout the year.

Our regular blogs will give an added insight and perspective into our dynamic programme with content from speakers at our events.


Situated in a Grade II* listed building, Bishopsgate Library’s beautiful reading room is a peaceful place to study that is open to all; a calm oasis amid the bustle of Spitalfields and the City. In our dedicated Researchers’ Area, you can consult our renowned printed and archival collections on London, labour, freethought and Humanism, co-operation, or protesting and campaigning.

Our regular blogs will provide a new way for you to engage with the library collections and services, new acquisitions, activities and future developments.


Our comprehensive range of short courses offer you the opportunity to discover, discuss and be inspired in a welcoming environment. Our courses are conveniently designed to take place throughout the day, including lunchtimes, after work and at weekends. We have five course strands, Arts and Culture, Words and Ideas, Languages, Performing Arts and Body & Exercise to choose from.

Our regular blogs will provide up-to-date news and information.

Bishopsgate Blog
Discover | Enquire | Debate

#TOWIEthics: Summer School and New Exhibition

by Schools and Community on 12 / 09 / 2013

Summer holidays are traditionally a quiet time for the schools and community learning team at Bishopsgate Institute. Not this year. During August we hosted The Only Way is Ethics project summer school which saw almost thirty young people from across London taking part in a lively programme of archival exploration, creative workshops and street theatre. Some participants even stayed behind afterwards to help curate a new temporary exhibition in the corridor space outside our library...

In the schools and community learning team we are used to delivering thought-provoking one-off workshops exploring London past and present through original archive materials such as photographs, pamphlets, guidebooks and maps. We also encourage a more sustained public engagement with our historic library collections by supporting a range of community projects such as The Only Way Is Ethics or TOWIE. TOWIE is a youth-led project funded by the national lottery and delivered by Emergency Exit Arts in partnership with the Museum of London and Bishopsgate Institute.

The project explores the history of democracy and social activism since the 1840s. It also seeks to examine the broader ethical implications of public protest, encouraging individual young people to find their voice – and use it to affect political change in the world around them.

TOWIE’s learning programme kicked off on Tuesday 9 August with a summer school attended by 15–25 year olds from across London. During an eventful four days we looked at the themes of class, children and young people, race and nation, and gender.

Participants had the opportunity to undertake training in collections care using objects that had special value and meaning for them. They improved their research skills by working hands-on with archive materials relating to the project themes from the Bernie Grant archive, the Freedom Press archive and the Feminist Library Pamphlet collection among others. They responded creatively to their findings with the support of a spoken word artist and a photographer.

Image: Participants switched conventional gender roles in a pop-up photographic studio set up by photographer Chris Morgan in the Bishopsgate Library as part of TOWIE summer school. Image reproduced courtesy of Enrique Rovira

Opportunities for group discussions took place every day, and these were lively affairs with our thoughtful participants articulating a number of ethical questions such as: ‘who is London for?’; ‘how important has conflict been in creating cultural differences across Europe?’; and ‘if everyone says they’re not racist, why is there still racism in Britain today?’It was agreed that reading historic texts beforehand encouraged dialogue. One young person said: ‘I enjoyed the opportunity to handle archive documents. Viewing original materials certainly added a level of excitement and authenticity to our discussions.’ Another expressed it more bluntly: ‘My brain's still hot from those burning questions - what an amazing week!’

Some project participants returned to Bishopsgate Institute after the summer school to help select images and draft text for a temporary TOWIE exhibition for display outside the library.

True to TOWIE’s spirit of open enquiry and healthy debate, the display aims to provoke discussion. You can have your say on Twitter using the hashtag TOWIEthics.

To keep up with project news and events, follow TOWIE on Twitter @OwnYourViews. The project exhibition can be viewed during Institute opening hours until 6 December 2013.

Our Library and Archive Collections are open to everyone.

‘It’s Really Niche’: the ethics of archives and archiving

by Schools and Community on 17 / 03 / 2014

‘It’s Really Niche’: the ethics of archives and archiving

Is it ever appropriate to de-accession or throw away an archive? Are all archive materials suitable for sharing with all library users? If budgets are tight, how are decisions made about which archive collections to digitise? These and other questions on the ethics of archives and archiving were discussed at a recent training session at Bishopsgate Institute as part of The Only Way is Ethics youth arts project.

The Only Way is Ethics (TOWIE) rebooted in February with a new cohort of young people as well as some familiar faces from last year's summer school. This term participants learnt about collecting, cataloguing and curating during intensive heritage skills training sessions delivered by the project heritage partners, Museum of London and Bishopsgate Institute.

On Saturday 1 March at the Museum of London in Docklands the training included opportunities to put together a pop- up exhibition of historic postcards with Honorary Research Fellow Cathy Ross and a session on how to date archaeological skeletal assemblages with Curator of Human Osteology Jelena Beklavac – featuring actual human remains from the Museum's collections.
Museum of London workshop

On Saturday 22 February at Bishopsgate Institute, the focus was on archive interpretation and the ethics of collecting. TOWIE participants Antonia Bici, Tanisa Gunesekera, Linda Gyamfi and Beth Jellicoe joined Project Archivist Nicky Hilton for an afternoon of hands-on training that began with a jargon-busting quiz giving Antonia, Tanisa, Linda and Beth a chance to discover some of the specialist terms used by archivists such as acquisition (the process of identifying and obtaining historical materials) and appraisal (the process of determining whether collections have sufficient value to warrant acquisition by an archive). Linda pointed out: 'This is like learning a different language! The jargon acts as a barrier to understanding archives and archiving for general audiences.'

Next the group looked at some controversial stories from the archives, which included the opportunity to handle the Minute Book of the First International Working Men's Association (1866-9) – a volume considered so politically inflammatory in the years immediately following the Russian Revolution in 1917 that the governors of Bishopsgate Institute locked it in a bank vault for some twenty years. A lively discussion followed about whether it was ever acceptable to prevent readers accessing historic items in a public library or archive collection.

During the discussion, Linda pointed out: ‘archiving isn’t as straightforward or impersonal as you might think. Some aspects of collecting seem to be about fashion or what’s popular at the time.’  Beth agreed. She was especially struck by the importance of an archivist’s role and the power he or she has to direct, even rewrite, history: 'archiving is a useful skill to have because it's really niche. It's been fun discussing the ethics around archiving. It's great that it's not abstract. These are real people and real legacies so that makes it seem important.'

Archives workshop
Once the discussion ended, Nicky explained more about the work of an archivist. Everyone was surprised to learn that there are no hard and fast rules involved in archiving. Instead archivists follow a code of ethics which focuses on: maintaining the original archive order or filing system of the material; protecting the material; and promote access to the material. Nicky also pointed out the curious fact that the unique character of archive materials means that they cannot be insured because each document, letter, minute book and so on is irreplaceable – and therefore priceless!

The archives training ended with the group gaining an intensive introduction to cataloguing, using the Unite Against Fascism collection of badges, posters and flyers from the 1980s to the present day and including items from the high-profile Love Music Hate Racism campaign. Tanisa had had some experience of object cataloguing in a museum but found it quite different working with printed materials. ‘How do you paraphrase the text and pick out the "right" information from the pamphlet or book to include?' she wondered. Antonia is a Drama and English graduate who had never done any cataloguing before. She said afterwards: ‘I feel really privileged taking part! Finding out more about how the process of cataloguing works is something most people don't get to explore. The things we’ve discovered today from the collections about history and politics in London will inform my performances in the future.' 

Before the session ended, the participants worked with Nicky to put together a Unite Against Fascism Pinterest board featuring items from the collection they had catalogued. All agreed that being archivists for a day had been a valuable and thought-provoking experience.

The next TOWIE event at Bishopsgate Institute takes place on Sunday 11 May as part of the Trouble Makers? festival (details of the festival will be available on our website from Wednesday 26 March). All welcome.

Bishopsgate Library and Archive Collections are open to everyone.

Tin Bashing and Backyard Farms: Bishopsgate Voices CD Launch

by Schools and Community on 17 / 02 / 2014

Bishopsgate Institute’s oral history volunteers have added to their skills by compiling and editing an audio CD from the interviews carried out as part of the Library’s Bishopsgate Voices project.  The CD launch takes place on Wednesday 19 March at 6.30pm in our atmospheric library. All are welcome to join us in celebrating this milestone in the Bishopsgate Voices story.

Since 2007, Bishopsgate Institute staff and volunteers have been collecting memories of the local area in the form of oral history recordings. In October 2013, the 100th oral history interview was recorded. Reaching a Bishopsgate Voices century prompted the idea of compiling an audio CD. We wanted to celebrate the lives and contributions of the interviewees, to share the project recordings with a wider audience and to let people know about the significant and expanding oral history collection available to researchers and family historians in the Library. The resulting CD takes the listener on an intimate, hour-long tour of the sights and sounds of the East End; a tour led by some of the men and women who have worked and played in and around its streets since the 1930s.  

Image: Queens Head, Chicksand St, E1 ‘Pub annual beano to Southend’, John Charlton (boy with hands in pocket)
Image: Queens Head, Chicksand St, E1 ‘Pub annual beano to Southend’, John Charlton (boy with hands in pocket)

A colourful and evocative aural collage has been created using short clips from a range of  Bishopsgate Voices interviewees, organised in themed chapters under headings that include ‘Growing Up’, ‘Making a Living’ and ‘The Surrounding Streets’. The listener is transported from the carefree fun of post-war childhood games such as ‘Knock Down Ginger’ to the reality of life as a single mother holding down three jobs to support her family, including working shifts at a ‘tin bashing’ factory on Bethnal Green Road. We hear about trips out of the area to tea dances in the West End and to Sussex camping holidays in Chapel tents blessed with incense. The East End’s olfactory delights are evoked through descriptions of farm animals kept in backyards, local fish, fruit and veg markets, Godfrey Phillips’ tobacco factory and malt from the breweries. And there are tales of runaway lobsters and a young girl unwittingly acting as a runner for her grandmother’s clandestine betting habit.  

The Bishopsgate Voices CD will be on sale in the library from Thursday 20 March.  For more information about Bishopsgate Voices, contact the Library on 020 7392 9270 or click here.

Sticking it to the armchair activists!

by Schools and Community on 19 / 12 / 2013

On Saturday 7 December almost two hundred people from a wide range of backgrounds and of all ages gathered in the Great Hall at Bishopsgate Institute to mark the successful completion of the Sounds from the Park project – and celebrate the launch of the project exhibition in the Bishopsgate Institute corridor. The exhibition tells the story of Speakers’ Corner in London’s Hyde Park, through the words and photographs of regular speakers, hecklers and listeners at what is now Britain’s last great open air site of oratory.

Sounds from the Park was a one-year project to record the history of protest and free speech at Speakers’ Corner in London’s Hyde Park since the 1860s. The project was devised and managed by Laura Mitchison and Rosa Vilbr at On the Record and funded by grants from the National Lottery and the Barry Amiel and Norman Melburn Trust. As the project heritage partners, Bishopsgate Institute has been involved in many aspects of Sounds from the Park since the project launched in December 2012. We delivered archive learning workshops for students and young people to explore the theory and history of public speaking; we provided a home for a newly-created Speakers’ Corner archive of oral history recordings, documents and images; and we hosted project events – including the project finale on Saturday 7 December in the Great Hall.

The atmosphere in the hall was relaxed and welcoming, with lunch kicking off the afternoon in sociable style. True to the community-led ethos of Sounds from the Park, the event provided a platform for a range of project participants to share their experiences, both of Speakers’ Corner and of the project itself. After lunch, invited speakers took to the stage in turn to provide invariably eloquent, and frequently humorous, overviews of their own areas of interest at Speakers’ Corner. Some spoke about memorable individuals from the past, such as Donald Soper, the Methodist minister, socialist and pacifist who spoke regularly at Speakers’ Corner from the 1920s until the 1990s. Historian Edward Packard managed to compress an informative history of Speakers’ Corner into just ten minutes, including a slideshow of well-chosen images. Oral historian and project volunteer Lynda Finn spoke movingly about her interviewing experiences during the project – almost 30 oral history recordings have now been deposited at Bishopsgate Institute as part of the Sounds from the Park archive collection.

To round off the speeches, a group of Year 11 students (aged 15-16) from George Mitchell school in Leyton, east London, took to the stage to share their learning from the project. They also introduced short soundscape compositions created during October half-term using the Feed app for iPad with the help of David Gunn from the Incidental. The thoughtful content of the students’ compositions marked a continuity between activism then and now, reassuring some Speakers’ Corner 'old stagers' in the audience that there is a next generation of politically-engaged young people emerging who are keen to consider and debate ideas. As one of our project partners said afterwards: "I've been typing up the event feedback and loads of people said how much they'd enjoyed the students' speeches and sound compositions – and general sticking it to the armchair activists!" The Head of History at George Mitchell School set out in more detail the value of this type of extra-curricular programme of creative heritage learning:

"Being involved in Sounds from the Park has been enormously beneficial for this set of students and a real pleasure for me to see them grow into the roles offered by the project. As they spoke on the platform, mingled with the older people during breaks, engaged in debate and discussion, designed posters and taught people to use Feed, the many skills the project drew out of them were all in evidence. They all loved it and I’m delighted that we were lucky enough to be involved. Thank you a million times!"
Sounds from the Park celebration event
Above: During the event people of all ages got talking about community politics and ideals. Photograph reproduced with the kind permission of Sophie Polyviou.

Following the speeches, teas and coffees were served and guests were able to take part in workshops, from sign-making to debating skills to creating a soundscape. An impromptu Speakers’ Corner style ‘meeting’ almost immediately popped up in one corner of the Great Hall, attracting knots of listeners, hecklers and would-be speakers. It was a lively and fitting end to a fascinating and informative day, itself a fine celebration of an important and long-overdue London heritage project.

The Sounds from the Park exhibition, featuring original artwork by Annette Fry, is free to view in the corridor at Bishopsgate Institute until 30 April 2014. The project archive is accessible from January 2014 in the researchers’ area of the Bishopsgate Library. No membership required. No appointment necessary. Click here for library opening hours. 

Traces of Muriel Lester: the story of the story box

by Schools and Community on 25 / 11 / 2013

Social campaigner, committed pacifist and friend of Mahatma Ghandi, Muriel Lester (1883–1968) was described at the time of her death as a legend. In her own lifetime she was "admired by statesmen" and "loved by the poor". Lester’s relative obscurity today – coupled with an extraordinary life of contrasts that combined periods of international travel with time spent living in voluntary poverty in the East End of London – make her the ideal subject for the ‘story box’ exhibition as part of the Explore Your Archives campaign.

The Explore Your Archives campaign is a new initiative which launched on 16 November to raise the profile of archives in the UK and Ireland. At the centre of each campaign is the story box, a discrete exhibition created by archives of all shapes and sizes to celebrate their unique collections – and ideally to promote the more obscure or neglected items or individuals featured among their holdings. Unlike a traditional exhibition, which will usually have a narrative and a viewing order, the story box format allows for a more creative approach with each person or institution interpreting the materials in their own way.

The Muriel Lester story box was produced to open out the Lester archive to new audiences. It was devised in collaboration with young adults from The Only Way is Ethics (TOWIE), a lottery-funded youth project led by Emergency Exit Arts with heritage support from Bishopsgate Institute and the Museum of London.

TOWIE Young Producer Rumela Begum explored the Lester archive with archivist Nicky Hilton to help create the story box. Rumela said afterwards:

"Being given the opportunity to curate the story box has been an intriguing and rewarding experience. Exploring the archives was like walking in the footsteps of those who had fought to get their voices heard and create a change. Looking through newspaper articles, pamphlets and images we were able to piece together the traces of Muriel Lester’s past and create our own interpretation. Her courageous and inspiring story, which gained Muriel thousands of supporters worldwide, should be known and celebrated. Who knew such an influential women was living among us not so long ago?

Muriel Lester is one excellent example of how the past can help and inspire us in the present. Likewise, our story box is one example of the fascinating histories that can be uncovered through just a few hours of your own investigation. Come along to the Bishopsgate institute (or your local archives) and start your own research trail to discover what has been hidden away for too long!"

The Lester story box was revealed to more than fifty adults and young people at the ‘I’m not a Feminist but… dinner and debate held in our Great Hall on 21 November as part of Parliament Week 2013. The theme of Parliament Week this year was Women in Democracy: "celebrating women’s contribution to UK democratic life and exploring how women’s voices can be better heard." Throughout her life Muriel Lester made her voice heard by campaigning for peace and equality across the world. Today she is almost silent in the archives; the materials that reveal her extraordinary life are infrequently accessed and little known.

If you’d like to explore the story of Muriel Lester for yourself, you can view the story box in the glass case in the main Bishopsgate Library until January 2014. Or you can enjoy the digital version, which includes additional photographs, on our Pinterest page.

You can also join the Explore Your Archives discussions on Twitter using #explorearchives to keep up to date with the campaign events and displays. #TOWIEthics will get you involved in the TOWIE Twitter dialogue about ethics, gender, protest and politics. Finally, why not tell us who you would nominate as the ‘Muriel Lester’ of the twenty-first century by leaving a comments card on our discussion board in the Institute corridor in the coming weeks? 

Bishopsgate Voices Hits One Hundred

by Schools and Community on 05 / 11 / 2013

Bishopsgate Institute’s oral history programme reached an important project milestone on Friday 4 October 2013 when we carried out the 100th Bishopsgate Voices interview with East End pharmacist Julian Langer.

Bishopsgate Voices records the memories of ‘ordinary’ people who have lived or worked in the City or East End of London. With the support of a dedicated team of volunteers, since 2007 the project has been steadily accumulating an oral history archive for researchers and family historians to learn from and enjoy. Interview recordings are added to our library & archive collections along with a written summary of their contents. Interviewees sometimes also donate family photographs or ephemera. These items are catalogued alongside the audio recordings and anyone is able to view photographs like the one above (donated by interviewee Sheila Reed, a machinist in the local rag trade) or listen to the oral history recordings by visiting Bishopsgate Library.

Our 100th interviewee was Julian Langer, a retired East End pharmacist. Julian was born above his parents’ shop, the Old Maids’ Pharmacy, on Bethnal Green Road. He visited Bishopsgate Institute during Open House weekend in September 2013 – and heard some audio clips from our oral history interviews playing as part of a Bishopsgate Voices exhibition. Keen to share his own experiences of local life since the 1940s, Julian approached library staff and an interview date was set. Julian’s interview has now been added to our collections; it includes memories that are highly personal but also of general historical interest. For example, in recalling his childhood memories of rationing after World War Two, Julian describes to the interviewer the extraordinary demand for Brylcreem. He explains how he would be perched on the top of a box in the Old Maid’s Pharmacy, handing out tins of the hair cream one at a time to queues of customers keen to get their hands on the latest American import to the East End.

Bishopsgate Voices creates a unique opportunity for the community both to contribute to and hear personal accounts of events and cultural life in the City and the East End.  To celebrate the contributors and their stories, we are compiling an audio ‘Best of…’ Bishopsgate Voices CD and booklet with the generous support of local design company Gensler. Look out for the launch event in spring 2014.

We may have hit our first century but we plan to bat many more overs, so if you have a connection with the area and would like to share your own experiences with our Bishopsgate Voices volunteers, get in touch with Volunteers Co-ordinator (Clare Coyne) on 020 7392 9225 or Library & Archives Manager (Stefan Dickers) on 020 7392 9292.

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"Pretty fancy these days"

by Schools and Community on 10 / 10 / 2013

Over the summer, a group of adults from Headway East London worked with the Schools & Community Learning Team at Bishopsgate Institute to research and photograph Spitalfields past and present.

Headway East London supports people affected by brain injury in thirteen boroughs of London. The charity aims to empower people with brain injury to lead full lives and achieve their potential as active citizens. As part of their activity this summer, members of Headway East London carried out a programme of research in partnership with Bishopsgate Institute.

The programme began with a hands-on research workshop exploring photographs, pamphlets and maps from our historic library and archive collections. Through original sources and structured activities, the group discovered why this part of east London has been a site of migration and immigration since the seventeenth century. The group leader said: "I found in the project workshops…that they were all interested in talking about the changes in the area and reflecting on their broader experience of London markets, gentrification, the history of immigration in their own families."
Headway East London project at Bishopsgate Institute









After researching the history of Spitalfields, we went on a walking tour of the area to ‘map’ the classroom findings. We traced routes and sites with links to the past, in particular those with meaning for the different communities that have settled in this part of London over the years. Equipped with cameras, the group documented their discoveries by taking photographs throughout the walk. Exploring local streets also led to lots of thoughtful reflection on the transformations that have taken place, both socially and in the built environment. For some, visiting the area stirred up old memories. One said afterwards: ‘The walk helped me to remember what the area was like when I went there in the 1970s.’ When we stopped for lunch at a curry stall on Petticoat Lane there was some lively reminiscing about life in the old East End. Everyone agreed that the area had got "pretty fancy these days" with its high-end fashion shops and state-of-the-art, sky-scraping new office blocks.

In the weeks that followed, the group got together at Headway East London to refresh their memories of the project, continue the discussion and work on a Flickr album of their photographs from the workshop and walking tour. Items from the archives were included for historical context; the members also started to add comments to the album to personalise and caption individual pictures. They overcame impairments of language and memory to express their views.

The Headway East London Tour of Spitalfields album created from this summer programme is an evocative collection that mixes up the past and the present to provide a very personal overview of how one area of inner East London has transformed over the years.  

Explore our world-renowned collections on London history, labour and socialist history, freethought and humanism, co-operation, and protest and campaigning.

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At the beginning of June every year a nationwide campaign, Volunteers' Week, runs to acknowledge the fabulous contribution made by volunteers across the country.  In the UK, over 20 million people volunteer their time annually.  Not only does this add value to the organisations where volunteers are based, it also contributes to community cohesion: co-operation and trust is developed between individuals and organisations through the unique relationship that volunteering creates.  

Since 1895, Bishopsgate Institute has provided a welcome and inspiring space for people to come and learn and debate, listen and think. Access and diversity have been at the heart of the Institute’s mission before any of these buzz words were dreamt of; and our volunteer team contributes to this continuing reality by ensuring the visitor’s experience is inviting and inclusive. 

There are now around fifty people who volunteer regularly with the Institute, a number that has increased significantly since the completion of the renovation works two years ago.  At that point, in June 2011, a new, energetic and enthusiastic team of volunteer Launch Ambassadors joined the Institute to help raise the profile of the re-launch.  The passion and positivity offered by all volunteers since then continues to make its presence felt across the Institute on a daily basis.  Whether in the Library, at cultural events, supporting schools & community workshops, in the marketing team, or on the oral history project, the dedication of volunteers contributes exponentially to the Institute’s commitment to provide a stimulating and enriching space for the public. 

Many of our current volunteers have given their time to the Institute over several years, and this is particularly notable in the Library where people have long been applying their skills on a voluntary basis, assisting the Library team with the cataloguing of our collections, the digitisation of images and the conservation of materials.

Regardless of which part of the Institute people volunteer in and how long they have been here, the time given is invaluable. We are enormously grateful for their contribution in helping us ensure as many people as possible enjoy our library, historic collections, courses and cultural events.  Happy Volunteers’ Week for the beginning of June!

More information about volunteering at Bishopsgate Institute.

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Q&A with the WI

by Schools and Community on 19 / 04 / 2013

The Women’s Institute uncover questions and find the answers in our archives

EE WI members explore the archives

Over the last seven months a small but energetic, eager and committed group of women from the East End Women’s Institutehave been rummaging through our archives. This exploration of our treasure trove of archives came about as a result of attending three of our community learning workshops

Quiz booklet coverWith the passion for learning and sharing ignited, the group decided that they wanted to continue exploring our archives and share the curious facts and miscellanea uncovered. The results of their exploration have resulted in the Tower Hamlets Miscellany Quiz. Independent and team-based research, primarily relating to the group’s neighbourhood of Tower Hamlets, has created a booklet of 30 questions ranging from "Where in Tower Hamlets was the Magna Carta confirmed by Edward I" to "When did Tubby Isaacs’ stall in Whitechapel open?"

This is just a sneak preview of the questions in the booklet, which will be launched in October at a quiz night for the East End WI. Afterwards, the East End WI will share the quiz through its website, and copies of the booklet will be distributed to a range of groups such as historical societies, community and educational groups.

Colleen Bowen, Chair of East End Women’s Institute, said that not only was the project a great opportunity to examine archived documents and hear other women’s experiences of the East End, but also reflected the East End WI's ambition is to have fun, learn, share new skills and be creative.

Please click on the links if you or your group are interested in either our community learning programme or working in depth with us.

About the East End Women’s Institute

The East End Women’s Institute welcomes all women to share, learn and enjoy good company. It is a member of the National Federation of Women's Institute's, which plays a unique role in providing women with educational opportunities and the chance to build new skills, to take part in a wide variety of activities and to campaign on issues that matter to them and their communities.

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For the last four years the Schools and Community Learning department has been partnering with Historic Royal Palaces Tower of London to inspire cross-curricula activities and creativity in primary schools using the Take One model developed by the National Gallery.

This year we have chosen a picture postcard of Liverpool Street sent in 1904 as the focus for our project. The photograph on the front of the postcard shows the bustling street with cabs, horse-drawn omnibuses and delivery carts. The Metropolitan Railway station (opened in 1875 and at this time called Bishopsgate Station) is clearly visible on the left of the picture with Liverpool Street and Broad Street stations disappearing into the haze at the back of the picture. On the reverse of the card is a mysterious message from 'Fred' to 'Miss M Tomlinson'. Click here to view a larger image and see if you can decode the message.

Primary school students from Years 3 to 6 are visiting the Institute for workshops over the next month to explore the environment of Liverpool Street at the time the photograph was taken. Students have been examining postcards, maps and newspaper cuttings. The recreation of the typical sounds of a London street with the call "higher up!" from the bus conductors was particularly enthusiastic!

After the workshops the students and teachers will work together at school to develop a creative response to the postcard. The work will be displayed jointly with that from the Tower of London project at Banqueting House in July. We look forward to seeing what they produce.

Crisis English Club at Bishopsgate Institute, January 2013

Crisis Skylight London provides practical and creative workshops in accessible and inspiring environments to help homeless and vulnerably housed people regain confidence, build basic skills and raise aspirations. The English Club within Crisis Skylight regularly books workshops at Bishopsgate Institute, as well as the British Museum and Historic Royal Palaces, to give its learners unique and inspirational experiences.

Our workshops with the English Club provide a vivid picture of London, both historically and culturally, for homeless people for whom English is a second language. Through the workshops, participants develop a stronger sense of the city they now live in. We use documents, photographs and ephemera from our world-renowned collections to stimulate discussions which are not only informative but a fun and inspired way of practising English.

Over the last 3.5 years, the English Club has booked more than 25 workshops. We asked Veena Torchia, Manager of Accredited Learning at Skylight and the English Club’s organiser, what she feels Bishopsgate Institute has to offer her learners:

What attracted you to our community learning programme in the first place?
The fact that the programme was relevant, innovative and accessible for our learners.

Why have you returned each term?
The facilitators and facilities are excellent.

What learning and skills do the learners gain from attending the workshops?
They learn about the history of London, and the East End. And they practise their English in an informal but structured environment using a wide range of resources.

In what ways do our workshops support and contribute to the English Club’s objectives?
The workshops support language, knowledge and skills development and stimulate raising confidence levels and social interaction.

If you were to recommend our learning programme to other ESOL providers or community organisations, what would you highlight?
The workshops are really interesting and well structured with authentic visual resources, and the learning environment is really conducive to effective learning and development. In addition, ESOL tutors accompanying their groups can team teach "organically" without much preparation.

Our community learning programme offers a range of workshops exploring our library and archive collections. During the workshops, learners are able to handle and explore original items in an informal, friendly and supportive environment.

Crisis Skylight London’s English Club works with people from all cultural backgrounds to improve their speaking and listening skills and knowledge of London and its history. This allows the members to develop other life and social skills, including how to get out and about, empowering them to live independent lives.

App and Under London: modern technology and historic archives

by Schools and Community on 08 / 01 / 2013

‘It was good having the library collections available so we could find relevant text to read over the different sounds we recorded on the tube.’

Students explore underground maps

Working with young people from the Adventurers History Club and David Gunn from Incidental, the Schools & Community Learning department set out to discover whether it was possible to combine modern technology and historic archives to find exciting new ways of engaging with the past. The experiment took place on 17 December 2012.

The participants met in a quiet corner on the third floor of the British Library and the Incidental team handed out headphones and iPads pre-loaded with a music app called Feed. The app enables manipulation of a ‘live feed’ of sound drawn from the iPad microphone or an audio file. The Adventurers were shown how to record, play back and modulate sounds using the app: creating a sound loop by tracing a semi-circle around the recorded sound on the touch screens was an especially important part of the process. Once the young people were able to use the app with confidence, the group left the British Library and headed to Kings Cross underground station. On the metropolitan line from Kings Cross to Liverpool Street, incidental sounds were captured on the iPads – with safety and station announcements proving especially popular!

At Bishopsgate Institute, the Incidental team explained how the recordings could be remixed using the Feed app. Each Adventurer then created a single ‘Underground London’ track.

The next job was to add vocals to the compositions. Archive materials relating to the history of the London Underground had been placed on tables around the room. The young people pored over the close print of Victorian timetables, examined inter-war tube maps and read through late-20th century safety reports. Once they had selected a passage or extract which corresponded with the rhythm and mood of their audio track, they began to record short readings over their compositions. Two of the created tracks can be heard via Sound Cloud.

This experiment in learning showed how modern technology might be harnessed to help young people learn about and reflect on London’s past in new and creative ways. We are now considering using the Feed app to add value to our London Tourist workshop for school groups. If you are a teacher or youth worker, please contact us if this is something your young people might like to try in 2013.

The underground theme of our Feed workshop was inspired by the Institute’s upcoming series of events celebrating 150 years of the London underground

Read Incidental’s blog post about the workshop. 

Bernie Grant MP in front of Big BenBlack History Month (BHM) was initially a US initiative aimed at raising awareness of Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) histories and cultures which spread to the UK in the 1980s and is now an established part of the school calendar. High-profile figures, including the Prime Minister, endorse the scheme while dedicated websites support teachers organising BHM programmes each October. 

We support the spirit and aims of BHM; but question the approach adopted in British schools towards the teaching of black history, as reflected in the BHM resources available. Of the 80+ resources shared ahead of BHM 2012 on the TES website, most were concerned either with slavery or with a specifically North American black experience. Fewer than 10% of the resources explored the British BAME experience, a fact which did not pass unremarked in the review section: "Good resource, but a lack of British black people on it … It is important for young black people growing up in the UK to be aware of role models in the UK."

UK-focussed resources shared on the TES website looked at racism or immigration or used a BAME British figure to provide inspiring classroom learning during BHM. All too often the role-models are from the fields of sport or entertainment, for example actor and director Noel Clarke (a Londoner of Trinidadian heritage) and Olympic athlete Mo Farah (a Somali-born Londoner) are the subjects of two TES resources. But where are the British BAME activists and politicians? As a recent Teaching History article pointed out, there is ‘a rich history of grassroots activism in the field of rights and relations within Britain’s Black communities, akin to the history of the African-American Civil Rights movement.’ (1) 

The career of Labour MP Bernie Grant (1944–2000) provides a fine example of this activism. Bernie Grant was the first black leader of a local authority in Europe (Haringey, 1985-1987) and one of the first black MPs in Britain, elected to represent Tottenham in 1987. The Schools & Community Learning Department is now using Bernie Grant’s archive (owned by the Bernie Grant Trust and deposited at Bishopsgate Institute) to develop an engaging classroom learning resource ahead of BHM 2013. 

In the meantime, we are undertaking consultations with teachers to help develop the resource content and activities. To have your say, join us on Thursday 22 November from 4.30pm-6.30pm for a Teacher Twilight Session as part of Parliament Week. If you’re unable to attend you can email us your thoughts and questions. 

Parliament Week (19 – 25 November 2012) is a national initiative to build greater awareness of, and engagement with, parliamentary democracy in the UK.

1. Robin Whitburn and Sharon Yemoh, ‘"My people struggled too": hidden histories and heroism’. Teaching History Issue 147, June 2012, pp.16-25, on p.18

Photo credit: Bernie Grant Trust/Sharron Wallace

What do the 80s mean to you?

by Schools and Community on 10 / 10 / 2012

Exploring history together is the aim of the Schools and Community Learning team – we develop inspiring workshops and projects that open up our world-renowned library collections and engage with learners of varied ages and backgrounds.

To tie in with the Back to the 80s events we want to know what the decade meant to those who were there – and those who weren’t. What personal recollections do you have from the decade of Thatcher, New Romantics and red braces? If you didn’t live through the 80s, how do you think the decade’s events and attitudes have affected you? Your thoughts, memories, and memorabilia could become part of our next exhibition at Bishopsgate Institute.

Greenpeace Save the Whales certificate

As Liz (Schools & Community Learning Manager) recalls: ‘My parents subscribed to New Internationalist and supported Greenpeace so magazines from these organisations were my childhood reading – even though I couldn’t understand all the nuances. In the late 80s Iceland, Norway and Japan continued whale hunting despite international bans on commercial whaling. Greenpeace started a boycott of Icelandic frozen fish fingers and as a result of promising to not buy the fish I received the certificate pictured. I didn’t even like fish fingers!’

We are holding two ‘Remembering the 80s’ events, where you can explore relevant items from our library and archive collections, speak to one of our oral history volunteers and share your experiences of the 80s with us.

Remembering the 80s:

Friday 19 October, 2.30pm – 4.30pm, Library

Tuesday 23 October, 6.30pm – 7.15pm, Rear Library

If you have any memorabilia and mementos we could use in the exhibition – this could be photographs, badges, certificates, fanzines, concert tickets, election leaflets, alternative lifestyle pamphlets, anything that reflects your activities and interests in the 80s – please bring it along!

The resulting exhibition, a collage of images and words about the 1980s, will be on display December 2012 – January 2013.

If you’re not able to attend one of the events but would like to contribute, please email us your images and memories by 25 October.