Archives Against Racism: A Covid-19 Collecting Event for Young People

On Wednesday 28th July 2021, we held our first event on site since the lockdown; a workshop for secondary school age young people to learn about archives and more specifically the archive collections at Ahmed Iqbal Ullah RACE Centre. It was also a chance to share for them to share their experiences of lockdown and the pandemic.

Young people from Manchester Chinese Centre and Afrocats took part in the session held in Manchester Central Library’s Performance Space, but there was also a tour of the Archives+ display area, the RACE Centre’s library as well as a peek behind the scenes at the temperature-controlled stores where the bulk of the material is kept. We also got out some of materials from some of the collections for the young people to handle.

We used oral history clips to encourage the young people to introduce themselves to the rest of the group. They discussed what they might include in their own personal archive and the items they listed included personal objects and preferences from the present and also artefacts from their ancestors. Young people, particularly from racially marginalised backgrounds are often aware that histories that matter to them aren’t being taught in schools. But they often don’t know that ‘ordinary people’ like them can play a role in the shaping of events. 

We then moved on to talking about life during a pandemic and how some people had documented their experiences and contributed to the Race Centre’s Covid-19 collection. What we heard from the young people came was relatable. Disruption to schooling, boredom, stress, increased responsibilities, loneliness, and a sense of relief about being in lockdown. But what could be used to tell these personal stories? A picture of a scone, a video of a pet dog, a photo of a young sibling, a personal planner, specially written pieces were some of the things we came up with.

With young people having so much to say about their schooling, their environments and their futures, could we do more to collect stories from young people to be included not just in our RACE Centre archives but within archives in general? Of course we could and of course we should. It’s worth it if it means we have more material from young people within archives. Offering taster sessions for young people is step in the right direction.

Massive thanks to Jenny Wong from Manchester Chinese Centre and Magdalen Bartlett from Afrocats for working and of course to Resourcing Racial Justice for funding this activity as part of our Covid-19 Collecting project.