Thanks to funding from MAP and South Norfolk Council, since July 2015, the Norfolk Record Office has been able to offer voluntary 6 week digitisation work placements to young people not in employment, this is for one morning per week. Over the past year, the project has evolved to become a partnership project with Asperger East Anglia and so far 10 young people have successfully completed the scheme. Each young person receives data protection and document handling training prior to beginning their placement.
The project aims to digitise a private collection documenting the personal stories of the 448th Bomb Group, who were stationed at Seething airfield from 1943-1945. The collection consists of a series of folders, which give an insight into the part Seething airfield played in the fight for freedom during the Second World War. The aim of the collection is to document what life was like for the 3000 personnel that were stationed at the base and ensure that their sacrifices will not be forgotten.
Lauren, one of the trainees, shares her experiences of working on the project:
‘Hello, my name is Lauren and I have been working on the Seething Project for around 4 months. I have a great passion for history but I must admit that before starting this project I knew very little about The Archive Centre before Lizzie showed me around. I was shown behind the scenes to the three strong rooms where the documents are stored away safely from anything that may damage them, the search room where the general public can request and view documents from the strong room and the digitisation room where documents are photographed to make them easier to access.
I undertook 2 weeks of training before I could start the digitisation process which included completing an online test on Health & Safety, Fire Safety and Data Protection. I also met with Nick Sellwood, Senior Conservator, for training on how to handle documents correctly and safely so they don’t get damaged. Some of the documents Nick showed me were very old and dated back as far the Middle Ages, it was amazing to see a piece of history up close that had survived for hundreds of years.
Before starting to digitise the documents, I had to use the colour checker to ensure the photos taken of the documents were the correct white balance and of a good quality, aligned straight which was fiddly and took some time to get right. During the digitisation process I had to be extremely careful with the documents, especially with the photos that were loose or were printed onto A4 photographic paper for which I had to put on blue “surgical” gloves (it was a bit like “Who Do You Think You Are?” meets Holby City) so I didn’t damage them from the oil or dirt on my hands. Patience and attention to detail were two skills that were crucial for this project, it is a slow and long process as there are many files to digitise but it will all be worth the long hours in the end as we are preserving history.
The folders that I have digitised contain a mixture of photographs, letters, memoirs, drawings and newspaper clippings. Some examples of the documents that I personally found interesting include a photograph taken of one of the service men at Seething with his wife who was a nurse in France during the War, the picture brought to life the sacrifice made by many and a certificate given by the French Government in thanks for giving aid and successfully helping with liberating France from Nazi rule in August 1944. Also memorable, was a letter from a father to his new-born daughter passing on his wisdom to her because he would probably never see her again (it was heartbreaking and emotional to read). The importance and privilege of preserving these items for future generations is invaluable and was a pleasure to be a part of.
The Education and Outreach team have been so kind and helpful to me during this project that they have offered me an opportunity to learn more about what they do, something I grabbed with both hands; helping with behind-the-scenes tours, learning about the search room and helping with enquiries (the first came all the way from Canada!).
This project has been an incredible experience that I am grateful to have been a part of. I have learnt so much about the Norfolk Record Office and added to my knowledge on the Second World War. I have loved every moment of working on this project and feel it has helped boost my confidence. I have always wanted to have a career in a history based environment and volunteering here has opened my mind to all areas of working in this sector.
I would encourage and recommend a visit to the Norfolk Record Office to have a look around or attend one of their many talks and information events as there is so much on offer and loads to be learnt.’