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Beyond Boxes

The Mass Observation Archive (MOA), which records the lives of ordinary people, is working in partnership with Blind Veterans UK, the Brighton Housing Trust and Lewes Prison to open up access to the collection.

The two-year Beyond Boxes project began in September 2016 and is supported by a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund of £51,300. The project aims to break down the barriers many people face in trying to use archives, be these physical, attitudinal or educational, to ensure that heritage is open to all.

The Project So Far

International Day of Disabled People Diary Day

As part of the effort to make the content of the archive more representative, a new diary day was held on 3 December 2016 and 2017 to mark the United Nations International Day of Disabled People. Over 30 responses were received reflecting individual records of that day. In order to make participation in the diary day as accessible as possible, respondents were invited to record their day in several different formats, and some residents from Royal National Institute for the Blind at Wavertree House chose to document their day orally. These responses will be  scribed and make available, with other project material, in September 2017. 

MOP Winter Directive 2016: Homelessness

Along with an additional diary day, the first of a series of Mass Observation Project directives to be issued as part of the Beyond Boxes was designed in consultatation with clients of the Brighton Housing Trust. They actively helped to form the questions included in the directive and provided assistnat and advice on addressing such an important topic. The directive was sent to the MOP panel and there has been a steady flow of responses that are now available to consult at the Keep. Additional material, including oral recordings with project participants from First Base Day Centre, who provided their own responses to the directive, will be made available in September 2017.  

May 12th Diary Day

As part of Beyond Boxes, project participants were invited to take part in Mass Observation's annual diary day on the 12th May. The Beyond Boxes team visited Lewes Prison and Brighton Housing Trust to facilitate sessions which allowed participants to record accounts of their day in various formats. Repsonses came in the form of written accounts and oral recordings, and will be made available to the public shortly.

MOP Winter Directive 2017: Prison 

Through MO’s partnership with HMP Lewes and the work of the writing group at the prison library we have be able to commission a MOP directive on the topic of ‘prison.’ Over the course of a series of workshops at the prison library the Beyond Boxes team and the creative writing group worked together to design the directive which included writing up questions, suggesting topics of interest and offering advice on how best to approach such a large topic. The input form the men who make up the creative writing group has been invaluable to Beyond Boxes and the MOP. The directive was issued in winter 2017 and we have had a number of replies from the MOP panel. The directive has also be sent to HMP Lewes Library where all prisoners will be given the opportunity to reply, ensuring that their experiences, thoughts and feeling about ‘prison’ in 21st century Britain are deposited within the archive. 

Beyond Boxes Buddy Scheme

This summer seen the launch of the Buddy scheme. The scheme has recruited volunteers to provide 1-1 support to people visiting the Keep. Public service at the Keep includes a reference and reading room with facilities such as public network computers, an online catalogue, reference books, online resources and access to original archives. We recognise that a visit to the archives can be a little overwhelming for a new visitor and project activity so far has suggested that providing 1-1 support would be of benefit to some people using our service. The fully trained Beyond Boxes Buddy volunteers provide additional 1-1 support, to ensure that The Keep is more accessible and responsive to the individual needs of our users.The Keep has friendly and welcoming staff, who are able to provide expert advice and guidance.

If you would like a Buddy, please ask at Reception or in the Reference Room and staff will be able to let you know if one is available.

Access to Archives  

In our drive to make archives more accessible, the Keep has Prodigi Scanners available in the Reference and Reading rooms, purchased with the generous support of the Heritage Lottery Fund and FOTKA (Friends of the Keep Archive). Through Beyond Boxes the Keep has also installed Dolphin Supernova software on 10 public network computers with accessible keyboards and headphones. On your visit, please ask a member of Keep staff or a Buddy volunteer if you would like to use these machines, which are able to enhance access to documents in different ways.


This Mass Observer dreamt of an animated lizard at the @Pitt_Rivers in 1937 #WordLizardDay #FromTheArchives
RT @sussexlibrary: We have en exciting opportunity in our Library:
RT @DrDaveOBrien: Discourses of ‘class’ in Britain in ‘New Times’- this looks like an essential read by @fasbraithwaite using @MassObsArchi…
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