‘Dig my Archives’ Schools Project
Dig My Archives has been a two-year project (mid 2011–end of 2012) with the aim of bringing the archives of John La Rose, founder of New Beacon Books and the George Padmore Institute (GPI), to young people. The key objectives were to highlight the importance and value of archives, raise awareness of the Black civic contribution to post 1960s Britain and inspire young people and their group leaders to access services they may have previously not known of. This exciting project was led by educational facilitator Sarita Mamseri and has been a central part of the GPI’s Heritage Lottery-funded Dream to Change the World Project. In the first year of the project, sessions were run as after-school history clubs at South Harringay Junior School and Stroud Green Primary School for children ages 8–11. The children became 'history detectives', whose mission was to use original archival material, including photographs, letters, postcards, maps, posters and film, to search for clues about John La Rose. Whereas the first year of the project was thematically quite open, the second year had a definite theme: political campaigning and active citizenship. These sessions were run with Key Stage 3 pupils in two secondary schools – Stoke Newington School and St Martins in the Fields High School for Girls in Tulse Hill. The focus was on specific campaigns – Stoke Newington pupils focussed on the New Cross Massacre Action Committee, established in response to the deaths of 14 young Black people in a house fire in New Cross in January 1981, as well as the Black People’s Day of Action which took place in March 1981. Two workshops were structured into the six-week project at Stoke Newington School, the first involving the dub poet Linton Kwesi Johnson whose poem New Crass Massakah explicitly reflects the strength of feeling from the grieving community. He also participated in the Black People’s Day of Action and was therefore able to give his own account of that day in contrast to the national tabloid headlines. Parents and many teachers from different departments actively participated in or observed the workshop, sharing their own experiences and viewpoints. The second workshop was led by Alex Pascall, a former BBC radio broadcaster who attended the march as a journalist in solidarity with the Black community and was also creator of the ‘New Cross Fire Fund’ for bereaved families. He shared his own experiences of broadcasting at the BBC, interviewing the families affected by the fire, as well as some humorous anecdotes of working in the media. St Martins pupils looked at the Boycotting of South African goods as part of the Anti Apartheid campaign. For this campaign, the focus was on the protests led by John La Rose along with family members, friends and locals under the umbrella of the ‘Black Parents Movement’. The campaign was very straightforward in its format with its methods of creating simple placards with protest messages and leaflets to disseminate in front of the Tesco store on Stroud Green Road, London N4.
The two secondary schools came together for a Shared Experience Day at the British Library on 14th December 2012.
The sessions have been covering all aspects of the archival collection and considering the various skills required to achieve the campaigns’ objectives. A major theme has been leadership and management – how were John La Rose and others able to raise awareness of important and sometime controversial issues? At Stoke Newington School, we also ran a book stand, which was very popular. A big thank you to Sarita and the volunteers who have assisted her, for making this challenging project such a success, as well as to Linton Kwesi Johnson and Alex Pascall for their valuable contributions at Stoke Newington School.
For more about the visits of Linton Kwesi Johnson and Alex Pascall to Stoke Newington School, see the school's website:
Other Public Events
In March we were invited by the Heritage Lottery Fund to put on a joint showcase event at Bruce Castle Museum. This was attended by some 50 people representing organisations either interested in applying to the HLF or already in receipt of a grant. There were presentations from the GPI, the HLF, London Metropolitan Archives and a lively panel discussion of GPI staff and volunteers being interviewed by Wesley Kerr, chair of the HLF London Committee. During the same month, the GPI also hosted Tayo Aluko’s presentation on Paul Robeson called ‘This Little Light of Mine’. It was a successful well attended evening focusing on the life, ideas and songs of Robeson. In April the British Film Institute showed the Mangrove Nine film which was produced by Franco Rossi and John La Rose in 1973. Michael La Rose, the GPI’s chair led the post-film discussion. June and July saw the collaboration between the GPI and the grassroots So We Stand organization headed by Dan Glass - ‘Reclaiming the Riots & Insurgencies’ was a lively debate, chaired by Remi Harris, held at Caxton House on 28 June; on 11 July Sarah Garrod and Janice Durham ran a workshop on ‘Recording Black History’ as part of the So We Stand Summer School for young activists. There was good attendance at both events and new interest in the GPI and its work. Recently, in partnership with New Beacon Books, the GPI has hosted two book launches - in August Mixed Company, a book of three early Jamaican plays edited by Yvonne Brewster, was introduced by Linton Kwesi Johnson. He also read the poem ‘Mi Caan Believe It’ by Michael Smith, while Alistair Bain and Yvonne acted a short excerpt from one of the plays to the delight of the audience; in October before a large and appreciative audience, Lawrence Scott was in conversation with Anne Walmsley and read from his new novel Light Falling on Bamboo, an imaginative portrayal of the life of the 19th century Trinidadian painter Michel Jean Cazabon. We were also extremely busy throughout Black History Month - the film ‘Dream to Change the World’ was screened at the British Museum on the 6 October and the Trinidad & Tobago Association on 27 October; Sarah White presented an 8 minute edited excerpt from the film as well as archive images from the Caribbean Artists’ Movement and the International Book Fair of Radical, Black and Third World Books at the Victoria and Albert Museum on the 19 October; the GPI participated in the film ‘The Importance of Black History?’ by Nosa Igbinedion, which was screened at King’s Place on the 23 October; Sarah Garrod led two archive workshops in the local area – helped by volunteers Pat Harris and Thushari Perera– one with a primary school at the Alexandra Park Library on 22 October and the second at a Bruce Castle “Munch n Listen” session on 29 October. Sarah Garrod has also carried out two student workshops during November - one at the London College of Communication with BA students studying graphic design; the other at the GPI with English students from Queen Mary University.