A guide to the community archives of London – Livia Pajunen
Through researching the programme for The Southall Shift, we came across a majority of our films through archives based in London. The traditional notion of archives is that they are guarded by institutions. Meaning that they are attached to bigger organisations and are only accessible through either, work or education. Further it is often the case that those who head archival institutions get to prioritise who and what are documented and preserved in their archives.
Archives are increasingly important in documenting history and stories especially from communities that have been historically marginalised, because they reflect and preserve stories and worldviews that are not part of the mainstream. It is important to have and support these archives as they contribute to a better understanding of communities and societies. Here is a guide to the community archives across London and the roles they play in documenting the community around them, which students may find useful as future programmers, researchers, filmmakers and more.
London Screen Archives is a ‘network’ organisation that provides an infrastructure to “preserve and share London’s history on film”. It provides support to a lot of archives and community archives, that specialise in preserving screen media across London. London Screen Archives has an online directory that facilitates accessing heritage archival material amongst 70 partner organisation and archives easy. London Screen Archives is a valuable database for research, programming and filmmaking.
London Community Video Archives (LCVA), is an organisation based in Goldsmiths, that preserves films that where made on half inch reel to reel tape. A lot of videos that are archived in LCVA have documented under represented communities in south east London from the 1970s, such as youth, queer communities, minority ethnic groups, activism groups etc… Through their online directory one can explore archival videos that have since been digitised, allowing ready access to these community films created by those on the peripheral of society in London.
Bishopsgate Institute is primarily an education centre based in east London, housing many archives and collections. They have been open since 1895 and primarily focus on “extraordanairy individuals and organisations who have strived for social, political and cultural change”. It also houses an extensive LGBTQIA+ archive and in 2016 added UK Leather and Fetish Archives. The archives also extend outside of film, from books, pamphlets, biographies, photographs, posters and many more, documenting social and political change within London. Also often work with film festivals across London in curating programs. Recently in collaboration with BFI Flare in March 2023, Bishopgate Institute hosted a free exhibition: I’M COMING OUT! Which explored the queer night life in the city from 1975 – 1985.
Hidden Histories is an archive and collection based in Stratford and Eastham was founded in 1999, archives hundreds of hours of oral histories and thousand of videos, films and photographs of East London. It captures the diversity of east London, including the oral histories of activist groups such as London Against Racism, Being Civil in Redbridge, The Hungarian Revolution. As well as documenting diasporic groups and communities within east London, for example the Jewish Community in East End to Essex, Ugandan Asian Community, Somali and Bengali communities in Our Bricklane and many more. Overall Hidden Historic is an archive with broad scope that manages to explore and preserve the historic diversity of East London.
Moving to the south of London we have the Black Culture Archives (BCA), based in Peckham, with a mission to “collect, preserve and celebrate the histories of people of African and Caribbean decent in the UK” since its inception in 1981. It started as a community archive in, responding to the New Cross Massacre of 1981. Since the 1980s it has been a beacon in preserving black history across the UK and has grown to be a major archive and is run by the community that is documents. The BCA has partnered on many projects including Decolonizing The Archive, a project which offers a community archive training course from an African heritage perspective. Seeing Ourselves a ‘work force development project’ creating a more diverse workforce in the archive and arts sector also offering training courses. Overall the BCA, not only provides one of the most extensive archives on black lives in the UK but further works on creating a space where they empower the community they document.
Mayday Rooms is a recent archive created in 2014 based in Central London near St Pauls Cathedral. It provides space for “social movement, experimental and marginal cultures and their histories”., archiving radical art, art created from social movements and acts of resistances from the 1960s and onwards. It prioritises marginalised groups telling their own histories through media from film, poetry and magazines and other audio visual and written work. One can access the archives in person through an online booking. Further the Mayday Rooms offer a space within central London for free events such as film screenings, educational trips, social nights and communal spaces such as a community kitchen, provides roof top access for views of London. Mayday Rooms is currently planing open days to get introduced to their vast archives and collections on the 9th of December 2023.
Four Corners is an archive based in Bethnal Green. The archives “aimed to bridge the gap between politics and art” was founded by four film students in 1970s as a film workshop and cinema space. In the 1970s to 1980s has engaged in community filmmaking and photography, tackling themes important to the community such as anti racism, feminism, class, social inequalities and many more, through different workshops such as Four Corners, Half Moon Photography Workshop and Camera Magazine. However the archive itself was not set up until 2016 in order to resurface the radical filmmaking that made Four Corners what is was, With online access and in person through the Bishopsgate Institute Four Corners today houses, collections from the workshops listed above as well as community space and exhibitions.
Further wanting to bring attention to programming projects that explore archives created in the past year. Selene’s Archive Project which was founded by Maria Paradinas, looks at the practice of archiving and documenting. It explores histories that have been misrecroded and destroyed through programming films. Answering how artist and filmmakers engage in the archives, as well as questioning the power structures, cultures and narratives that remain in archives. As of now there are upcoming screenings of the essay film Triumph (2022) dir. Kaveh Abbasian on 12th December 2023 at Reference Point London.
Community is at the heart of these archives mentioned above. They also provide as not only a tool in documenting their local histories, people and places. In addition they provide spaces to be active and get involved in the arts through workshops, seminars and direct engagement in filmmaking in a social setting. In the UK we live in a precarious time within the arts. The Tory government having active plans to defund the whole of the arts. It is now more vital to work with communities in documenting and archiving the arts. Also these community archives provide an important tool in looking back at how communities in across London used a wide range of media including film and video as a reaction against the mainstream.