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Asian women looking at historic photographs in the Foyle Reading Room

The Society’s Collections are designated as being of national importance and comprise over two million items documenting the people and places of the world over a 500-year period. We welcome opportunities to work with community groups and other organisations that want to use them to explore their cultural heritages.

Community partnerships not only broaden the range of audiences accessing our Collections, they also offer new interpretations and contexts for items used in the projects. This contribution of knowledge and expertise from community representatives greatly benefits all users of the Collections.

We have produced a guide based on the expertise developed over a decade of working in collaboration with community groups. Working with Society Collections: a guide for community groups outlines how we can support and contribute to community-led projects as well as highlighting best practice.

If you have a particular interest in African genealogy, you can download a guide developed by Patrick Vernon which highlights the relevance of our Collections to tracing African and Caribbean family histories.

Making freedom
The Windrush Foundation
Contact: Arthur Torrington
This project was the first time that important collections from the Society, the National Maritime Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, the National Archives, Anti-Slavery International, and the Imperial War Museum had been brought together in an exhibition on the Emancipation of Africans in the Caribbean. The exhibition celebrated those who resisted enslavement, those who fought to end it, and others who worked in Britain to stop forced servitude. It showed visitors how Africans in the Caribbean hastened full Emancipation.

Rediscovering African geographies
This exhibition, curated in partnership with members of London based African communities, provided a glimpse of Africa, its people, societies and relationship with the wider world through maps, photographs, objects and texts from the Society’s Collections that date back to the 1300s. The exhibition raised questions and addressed misconceptions surrounding the continent to reveal an Africa that goes beyond news headlines.

Crossing continents: connecting communities
In 2006, this three year project was launched to increase access to the Society’s Collections for community groups. The Crossing Continents: Connecting Communities programme created a series of exhibitions and educational resources around four geographical and cultural themes related to the Afghan, Chinese, East African and Punjabi communities in the UK.

View the project report

Variety is a Redbridge spice
Muslim Women’s Welfare Association (MWWA), Ilford 
Contact: Shahida Sarwar
Pakistani fashion, textiles and textile techniques of the 20th Century provided the focus for this project. Group members researched Pakistani clothing using our Collections and recreated costumes dating from 1900, 1950 and 2000 as part of a larger programme of activity that included recording oral testimonies and development of a school resource pack. Funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Young Congolese heritage and history
Advice and Learning Bureau (ALB), Dagenham
Contact: Victor Bantu
Young Congolese volunteers explored our Collections to trace the changes to Congolese borders over the centuries and the influence this has had on languages spoken and cultural changes there and in London today. Funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The past
African Heritage Education Centre
Contact: Philip  Dzirasa/Christine Borsah
Prompted by the development of the Olympic Park, this project aimed to preserve and share the memories of Caribbean, Ghanaian and Nigerian people that have lived and worked in the boroughs around this iconic site. As part of this oral history project, that features interviews with Olympic athlete Christine Ohurougu MBE, Diane Abbot MP and Lord Paul Boateng, the community volunteers visited the Society. They attended a series of workshops and used the Society’s Collections to understand the historical and geographical context of migrations to Britain from West Africa and the Caribbean. Volunteers also attended training sessions to equip them with curatorial and editorial skills to assist the development of a touring exhibition.

An inheritance from past lives: histories of British-Goans
The Goan Association (UK)
Contact: Clifford Pereira FRGS
The project recorded, collated and interpreted the lives of the communities that hailed from Goa and formed a small but important function in the exploration, infrastructure, social development and administration of colonial and post-colonial Eastern Africa. During the Spring 2012, the group used the Society’s Collections as a starting point to research and discuss their links to East Africa and the United Kingdom. The project also addressed the resettlement of Goans in the United Kingdom. Funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Resources for community collaborations

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Working with Society Collections


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Crossing Continents project review


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Family history research and RGS-IBG Collections


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