Norwich conference showcases pioneering archive project

15 March 2018

Archivists, charity workers and mental health professionals from around the UK came to Norfolk for a conference highlighting a pioneering county project which supports residents with mental health conditions to research the past.

Archives across the UK have already shown a great deal of interest in the success of Change Minds.  The Change Minds: Archives and Mental Wellbeing Conference held today (15 March) is an opportunity for them to learn from the best practice developed by the project partnership so that they can take up the idea and set up similar schemes in their areas.

Staff from record offices as far away as Edinburgh, Bradford and Dublin are among those who attended the conference, with a view to taking the idea and setting up similar schemes in their areas.  There has also been interest in Change Minds from as far afield as Hong Kong and Italy.

Change Minds supports North Norfolk residents with mental health conditions and on low incomes to research the history of patients in the Norfolk County Asylum in Thorpe during the 19th Century.  Initially it ran for two years and was organised by Norfolk Record Office, The Restoration Trust and Together, with funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund.  It provided a fascinating insight into local heritage, mental health and identity and culminated in an exhibition held at The Forum in November.

Participants each chose one person to research and then studied them at their own pace, using archives at Norfolk Record Office and online census records in Norfolk libraries to track them and learn about their lives through visits to Gressenhall Museum and Norwich Castle Study Centre. They have taken part in creative workshops, learned how to make an oral history and taken part in group activities.

Councillor Margaret Dewsbury, Chairman of Norfolk County Council’s Communities Committee, said:  “Norfolk County Council is doing a huge amount of exciting work around using our culture to improve the wellbeing of our residents.  This conference is a great opportunity to share our ideas so people across the country can benefit.”

Dr Christopher Kemp, Chairman of Norfolk Records Committee, said:  “Archives are a fantastic resource and Change Minds is a great way of bringing new users in to discover more about them.  The project highlights the benefits of using the archive resources available to us here in Norfolk to support the community as well as gaining valuable insight into people’s lives in the past.”

At the event, copies of a Good Practice Guide about the project will be given to attendees keen to start their own project.  There will also be speakers and a range of workshops detailing the creative processes, the oral history of the project, research techniques and evaluation.

Among the speakers are Norfolk’s County Archivist Gary Tuson, Restoration Trust Director Laura Drysdale, Jon Kingham from Together for Mental Wellbeing, Dr Victoria Scaife from the UEA School of Psychology, Dr Bodhan Solomka of Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust and Caroline Sampson of The National Archives.

It has been announced that Change Minds will be able to continue thanks to funding from the Norwich Freemen.  The next phase of Change Minds will be open to people in the Norwich area and sessions will be held at the Millennium Library from May to December.

NORAH (Norfolk Archives and Heritage Development Foundation) has also provided funding to allow previous participants to continue links with Norfolk Record Office in the future.

More details about the project are available at www.changeminds.org.uk

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