Community-Focused Digital Engagement

Woman in patterned headscarf with her back to the camera in front of a computer screen, holding and looking at a sepia photograph of two African Caribbean men in suits and hats

This is a blog post of an online event held on 10 February at the 2021 Digital Past Conference. it was written and presented by Drew Ellery, Digital Officer at the Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Trust. 


’Coming in from the Cold’ is a three-year programme funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund to support Black, Asian and ethnically diverse community groups to develop and archive their own heritage projects. I would like to share examples of our digital engagement activities that provide our groups with training and confidence to tell their own stories. 

Collecting life stories 

As a heritage organisation, we actively promote the value of recording life stories. In order to support this activity, we provide training to equip our groups with the necessary skills to manage their own oral history projects. The training involves running workshops that cover practical advice for using recording equipment, interview techniques, completing permission forms, and ethical considerations. 

We do however experience challenges within this process, especially in making sure groups have collected copyright permission from participants. If adequate permissions have not been specified, it’s difficult for this material to be used within future engagement.

The groups tend to already have an idea of the themes that they would like to explore within their project; these cover a wide range of topics from migration, identity and belonging, to food and music. The impact of recording oral histories within our local communities has been positive. We have found that it brings multiple generations together to share life experiences, stories and traditions. 

You can listen to some of our life stories here .

Collecting Images 

We run digitisation training to equip our groups with the necessary skills to scan photographs, paper records, letters and other personal documents as high-quality image files.

It had come to our attention that project managers were too over-reliant on mobile phones for copying images. Many of the images produced were of poor quality and unfortunately couldn’t be archived. The aim of this training is to help our project managers understand the value of creating high-quality images that can be used in exhibitions, published booklets, websites and blogs to engage with wider audiences. 

At times, maintaining these standards has proved challenging. Due to time constraints and busy workloads, project managers sometimes struggle to find the time to incorporate scanning into their projects. We learnt to find practical solutions for accepting images taken on mobile phones if they are of a high enough quality. We also advise managers developing funding applications to budget for a professional photographer to document their activities.

Digital storytelling

Once the groups have collected their digital material and begun the process of archiving, we then support them with strategies to engage with the wider public. We provide training and hands-on support with physical and digital exhibitions, sharing-events, websites and other engagement activities that put these project outputs to use.

At Central Library, our groups bring together images, sound and film produced within their project to create interactive digital exhibitions. Each group decides on what story they would like to tell and we provide advice and training on the process of curating their desired story into the public-facing exhibition. 

An example comes from the Gardens of Babylon project, which explores the heritage of Iranian and Kurdish communities in Greater Manchester. The exhibition features videos and audio recordings of rhymes, poems and stories passed down from generation to generation.

The digital exhibitions are physically located by the entrance and café of Central Library, receiving hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. They act as a shop window, raising awareness and inviting researchers to explore more items within our (not visible) collections.


‘Coming in from the Cold’ focuses on building partnerships with communities and working collaboratively with them. This ensures that there is mutual respect between participants and that the project is developed and recorded in their own words. 

This approach also ensures that the digital material they produce holds long-term value as both archived heritage and accessible resource. 

This democratic approach to skill-sharing and facilitation has proved incredibly effective and relationships between our organisation and the communities we work with have blossomed and led to a number of repeat projects.

You can find more information about ‘Coming in from the Cold’ here.

We are an anti-racism organisation with an archive and library; our work focuses on documenting the history of UK race relations, as well as archiving the lived experiences of culturally diverse communities in Greater Manchester. Part of the University of Manchester, we provide access to our collections for research and academic collaboration.