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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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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

Radical Citizenship at Bishopsgate Institute

by Bishopsgate Institute on 21 / 05 / 2015

What happened when we allowed a group of young adults to develop a corridor exhibition inspired by historic materials documenting the story of an extraordinary twentieth-century political movement? Interpretation officer Michelle Johansen provides an update on a new arts heritage project and reflects on the process of interpreting historic collections in creative and collaborative ways.

Since February 2015 we have been collaborating with Emergency Exit Arts to deliver a youth training project called Radical Citizenship funded by the Heritage Lottery’s Young Roots grants scheme. The project builds upon a previous partnership (The Only Way is Ethics, 2013-14 ). The current phase of the project offers skills-based training to equip young adults (aged 18 to 25) to produce and facilitate a series of public events, a temporary exhibition and a schools learning programme inspired by items from one of our collections, the Mondcivitan Republic Archive, which has recently expanded from one to almost one hundred boxes of materials following a donation from the Schonfield World Service Trust

A project archives placement is currently supporting library staff to catalogue the newly-accessioned materials while an exhibition placement is working with me to curate a temporary corridor display that interprets the Mondcivitan message and materials in fresh ways. The exhibition work began in April 2015 when a small, self-selected group of young adults attended workshops teaching heritage interpretation and exhibition design skills. An informal exhibition working group was then established to continue developing the 11-panel, two-dimensional display after-hours in the library. 

Image: Interrupted in the decision-making process

The members of the group have committed increasing hours to the collaborative exhibition development process since April. When asked why, the responses included the following:

The thing that has kept me coming along week after week is the discoveries we make each time. Going through the folders of archive materials numerous times is like digging deeper and deeper into the past. Because we’re reading documents very closely, as we search out quotes or text to use to tell the exhibition story, every session reveals more historical background and new ideas or concepts. It’s just really rewarding.      

When we started looking at the archive materials in the first training sessions at the beginning of the year I thought they looked really boring but then I started reading the letters sent by the members to one another – and the nicknames they used, like ‘Owl’ – and suddenly the story became a human one. I was also seeing more and more modern parallels in the type of issues the Mondcivitan Republic were addressing, especially around the time of the election in May, and that made me want to explore their views further.

I finished my A-levels last year and I’m on a gap year working in a supermarket to save money for university. I miss school [laughs] and I wanted to do something with my time that wasn’t just going to my job but that made me think a bit deeper about things. I like the collaborative elements of working together on the exhibition too. We’ve all got different skills and ideas we bring to the sessions and I like sharing those and the discussions around which items will go on which panel to tell the overall story in the best way possible.

The group travel considerable distances across London to get here for sessions at the end of a full working day. Their levels of commitment to the exhibition process have been maintained even as the work has become less creative (the laborious process of scanning archive sources to submit to the designer is now underway). My tips to other heritage organisations thinking of undertaking similar collaborative youth work would be:

- Offer an intensive training session at the start of the process to build skills and encourage teamwork

- If practical, provide full and free access to a relatively unknown collection to encourage engagement, exploration and a sense of ownership 

- Provide clear exhibition milestones – then step back from the process to ensure the ideas and outcomes are authentic and participant-led

- Allow a long lead in from the initial training to the print deadlines to facilitate creativity and genuine collaboration across weeks rather than days

The project exhibition panels go up in our corridor on Monday 29 June. A ‘meet the curators’ exhibition launch in the main library from 7.00pm will provide an opportunity to question members of the exhibitions group about their experiences of developing the display from start to finish over a glass of wine or soft drink. 

here to book your space at this free event. 

Bishopsgate Library collections cover a variety of subject areas which explore radical, social, labour, feminist and gay history in London.

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