Are you thinking about starting your own community archive?

Community archives are a valuable asset to the present and future people of that community. Preserving the rich culture and memories of individuals helps to strengthen the identity and unity of people within. In this post, we are going to look at the benefits of community archives and how you can begin an archive for your community.

Coming up:

  • What are community archives?
  • Types of community archives
  • Benefits of a community archive
  • Joining and contributing to your local community archive
  • Why start your own community based archive?
  • How best to capture the history of communities?
  • Interviewing your neighbours
  • Benefits of interviewing
  • Preserving oral history
  • Bridges the intergenerational gap
  • Using a digital app to record interviews
  • The Reliving App

What are community archives?

Before we can define the meaning of a community archive, we need to first decipher what is meant by the community.

A community is a place or location that is shared geographically. A community also has shared common interests, characteristics, beliefs, lifestyles, ethnicity, occupation and even a shared purpose. The people within the community all have shared experiences which are of interest to each of them. Therefore, a community creates an identity for a group and a sense of collective memory and heritage.

Community-based archives are the collection of stories and materials that represent the collective history of a group of people belonging to the same community.

The most common type of community archives is based on a group of people who live in the same geographical location, usually by parish or village (64%). But there are community archives around industrial geographical bases (for example, the coal mining industries in the Rhondda Valleys), ethnic groups (Northamptonshire Black History Project) and local common interests (See the Bewdley in Worcestershire and Winkleigh in Devon case studies).

Community-based archives are usually created, accumulated and preserved by local community groups. These can extend to local councils and even private community archives groups.


Types of community archives

Community-based archives can be collected and preserved in different forms. The most common basis of community archives is in digital form these days. But some communities use visual (photographs), paper (including parchment) and books to record their history.


Benefits of a community archive

Community archives can bring about many benefits to individuals and local communities. Aside from being an additional resource for individuals researching their own family history, community archives have made great differences to communities when introduced.

We looked into the independent research case study carried out in June 2007 by the Community Archives Development Group (CADG) and found surprising benefits.

These distinct impacts included cultural capital gains, more attractive communities, opportunities for lifelong learning and the introduction of community activities which brought communities closer together.

Let’s look at these individually:


  1. Capital gains

The capital gains CADG is referring to is the ‘cultural capital’ gained by the community. The cultural capital gained through a community archive brings unique benefits that aren’t as common in the mainstream heritage sector. This included:

  • Bridging the generational gap by bringing young and old people together. They also develop a sense of mutual respect that is often lost between generations with no common interest.  This had a tremendously positive effect on the old mining town of Tonypandy in the Rhondda Valleys. The elderly members of the community felt more validated and less afraid of the younger people after the introduction of the project.
  • Heritage and history are re-balanced for under-voiced communities.
  • An increased sense of belonging. In the Rhondda Valleys case study, the youth afterwards felt more strongly rooted to their communities and made them more outward-looking.


  1. More attractive communities

The increased cohesion with community members from working on a community archive project led to improved liveability of an area.

  • Tolerance for living in the area improved.
  • Interest in the area improved.
  • Increased sense of social companionship with other members of the community.
  • Opportunities to work with others from different backgrounds creating stronger cohesion. This led to safer and stronger communities as a result.
  • Even the superficial attractiveness of a local area improved. This was the case in the Winkleigh, Devon area. A historic building was preserved (and saved from closing down) through actions of the community, by proposing a use for the building that also generated income.


  1. Opportunities for lifelong learning

Many new skills can be learned through opportunities within community archive projects.

  • In the My Brighton and Hove community archive, 300 people had acquired skills and experience in using digital technology.
  • People can sometimes gain skills in transcription, scanning, computer technology and even improving communication skills through negotiation and interviewing and surveying.


  1. Community activities

Community Archives require a wide range of activities within communities to suit different project needs. The listed activities from the CADG research found that popular activities included:

  • exhibitions
  • collecting sessions
  • community events
  • workshops and meetings
  • publishing
  • hosting school visits
  • campaigning


Joining and contributing to your local community archive

There are around 3000 community archives in the UK, featuring the lives of up to 1 million people.

If you’re wanting to get on board with your community history and contribute your knowledge, there are many sources in the UK in which you can find your nearest local community archive. Here we have listed some below:

You should also directly contact your local library for information on your local community-based archive groups. You may find community-based groups who want to stay independent to retain their control and independence from governing institutions and private community archive groups.

However, if you are with a local, independent community archive group, signing up to the Community Archives and Heritage Group may benefit your community as they offer free advice and guidance.


Starting your own community-based archive

If you have a passion for your local history then you should consider creating and leading your own community- based archives.


Why start your own community-based archive?

Through a collection of community photographs, documents, rich oral stories and material objects can celebrate the worth of your communities past, present and shape the future.

Collecting and preserving your community archives you will bring people closer together who are usually distanced through age, experiences and abilities. Few opportunities in life today bring about these activities for people to meet and share stories.

But maybe more importantly for a lasting effect, your act today to create your community archive will provide a legacy for present and future generations.


How best to capture the history of communities?

A new method of collecting community-based archives is to start with recording the oral narratives of the people who make up your community. It is the people who are the heart and soul of history. Through the stories of people, we can understand who we came from, our rich heritage and the personal challenges that formed your community into what it was and what it is today.

We delve into the historic importance of preserving oral history in our last post here. We recommend giving it a read if you don’t know much about oral history and what you can learn from it.

A fantastic way to capture oral stories is to interview.


Interviewing your neighbours

What better way to collect and preserve the history of your community than to share through a collection of video or audio recorded interviews.

For the first time emotion, passion, body language, accent, mannerism, fashion and way of living can be captured alongside the first-hand narrative for recording history. We see interviewing as an essential method of capturing and collecting important historic information for a community archive.

Let’s look at why:


Benefits of interviewing

Preserving oral history

Oral history through a video or audio recording captures aspects of stories that can’t be reciprocated the same way in a photograph or written document.

Oral history also allows the narrator to tell their personal story. This is wholly different to how we usually look back at history. Largely history focuses on events as a whole, neglecting the interpersonal stories of the normal everyday people.


Bridges the intergenerational gap

Through using technology, the youth in communities are more likely to participate and engage in their community archive projects.

Smartphones and apps come naturally to the younger generation; they have grown up with these devices. Introducing an aspect of familiarity to the community project will allow young people to feel more involved and in control, thus taking more ownership and commitment to the community archive.

We’ve seen the benefits of including the youth into community archive projects in the case studies above. As well as improving ties to the community history it will also strengthen social bonds between large age gaps of community members.


Using a digital app to record interviews

Using a dedicated app specifically built for interviewing for ancestry purposes will allow you to very easily and conveniently build your community archive.


The Reliving App

Here at Reliving, we have built our app around interviewing to capture oral history. We recommend our interviewing app for starting a community oral history archive, by recording the memories and stories of your neighbours.

Interviewing features

Recording the interview

We provide the tools to capture oral history in an effortless and convenient way.  Enabling the archivist to structure the content that’s captured by creating specific question packs.

While recording the interview, specific questions appear on your smartphone in a periodic format, filtering through one question to the next. So throw out the needless pieces of paper, all you need is your smartphone while you meet up with members of your community.


Storing and organising the interviews in the community archive

Our app allows you to capture oral stories in real-time, organise and store all the interviews of your neighbours, allowing you to reach out and capture a wider audience as your community archive grows.

Our app can either house the information AND/OR connect via API or FTP file to a partner (the archive) so all oral history is transferred and stored correctly in their own database.


(New) Community Feature

Our new community section within our app allows you to only have one tool with you when recording and preserving all the oral histories for your community archive.

Our app is adaptable for small community-based projects, local cultural heritage organisations and even wide-scale governing institutions wanting to create uniformity across the different community-based archives.


Safeguard and share

For multiple members of the community wanting to contribute and record interviews, we allow the ability to share records across accounts.

Safeguarding the content collected is allowed for the community archive admin.


Supporting historic documentation

The app allows you to upload supporting images or documentation to an oral story. Maybe the interviewee will have pictures of them at school in their youth etc.



Community-based archives are an effective way to empower and create a sense of belonging to a community. It’s a necessary way to capture and preserve unrepresented and overlooked groups of people in society, allowing the exploration and celebration of past, present and future communities.

The historic narratives of each community are so important to understanding individual heritage and more importantly, improving current relationships between community members.

Encouraging active and wide participation in a community archive project will improve communities and help the people within them in many ways. This is especially important in the ever-changing and diverse landscape of communities today.

Help bring communities together through the strength of a community archive.