Life Goes On – the North West Film Archive’s Response to the COVID19 Lockdown – collection development, and access.


Contemporary Collecting

The North West Film Archive has launched a #Lockdownlife Appeal and is asking for the public’s help to create as wide-ranging a picture as possible of what life was really like in the North West of England during the 2020 Coronavirus pandemic.  We are looking for personal experiences and perspectives on these unprecedented times – social distancing, staying at home, home schooling, friends and loved ones far from reach, key workers at the sharp end of risk.

Contemporary collecting is an ongoing strand of the work of developing the Archive’s holdings, to ensure future researchers and users have access to material which represents lives lived now, and in the most recent decades.  We are most certainly not only about the ‘old black and white’ material from the Edwardian era, though that is also well represented!  Rapid changes in technology have changed the way we collect, and will continue to do so, and rising to the challenge of keeping up has kept everyone on their toes.  Screenshot 2020-05-26 at 11.58.19Anticipating that most footage recorded in these lockdown days will be born-digital, my colleagues have made it as easy as possible for people to offer their films to us, through uploading platforms.  We then can see what is on offer, make selections, and secure deposit.  The process of archival preservation of master files will follow, with current practice of making copies to LTO (a magnetic tape system) as well as viewing copies.  With born-digital taking over from videotape and cine film, there is a high risk that this footage will be seen as ephemeral, and it will not survive the changeover when people upgrade their devices, lose access to their storage systems, or run out of space and choose to delete old files. It is important that we act now to appeal for the material before it ‘evaporates’.  The appeal may also serve to encourage people to plan to record activities which may not have been considered before.  This will provide a wide range of material for future research, providing the public will step up and donate!

In very practical terms, we explored different avenues to find how best to collect any footage that was offered – we wanted to make it simple to contact us and share footage, but also ensure we had the capacity to receive it and download it safely.  In the end we recommended file transfer services like Dropbox and WeTransfer rather than directing users to a specific ‘bucket’ to fill with content. 

Acquisition & Documentation Officer Nick Gladden recorded a subtitled video appeal to be shared around social media and on a dedicated page on NWFA website, created by Digital Access Officer Jonathan Howell.

 More info on this appeal here including Nick Gladden’s video:

Since the appeal launched, we have already received for consideration one Wigan man’s #SundayFunday videos – he and his friends dressing up and lip-synching to pop songs in their bedrooms; a 70th birthday celebration in Cumbria; and a Chorley Church’s online VE 75 service.

Screenshot 2020-05-26 at 11.57.53

Nick has also been working with colleagues in the Archives+ partnership and record offices around the wider region to co-ordinate the appeal and combine efforts to promote the scheme and collect relevant material.

Several of the other moving image archives in the UK’s network of national and regional collections are doing similar things, as is the British Film Institute National Archive.  Many of the traditional record offices and local history libraries are also seeking to preserve material from the period, perhaps taking a different approach when they can ‘afford’ to bide their time a little in seeking to collect physical artefacts, which are more likely to survive.  Though photographs will have similar issues to moving image of course.

Accessing the Collections in lockdown:

Thanks to some fancy footwork and quick thinking, the NWFA team just beat the lockdown in time to transfer equipment and materials to their homes and establish remote access routes to most other things.  Although the crucial hands-on film inspection and digitisation work is impossible remotely, access has proved to be possible and we are pleased to be able to keep the doors open to researchers and other users.  Not absolutely everything can be reached, but there is plenty to be going on with!  Another silver lining has been the opportunity to spend time on cataloguing – the Cinderella of the service – resulting in hundreds of new entries becoming ready for upload to the web catalogue when we return.

 A Film A Day

During the lockdown, the NWFA’s Will McTaggart and Geoff Senior have been showcasing ‘A Film A Day’ on our Facebook page and using the hashtag #NWFAdailyreel to do the same on Twitter.  This was introduced as a means to showcase material from our collection on a regular basis and gently introduce people to films they may not have come across before by providing short introductions on social media.  This is not to say that there was nothing online before – there is a body of material available already.  It has been an opportunity to promote this availability, add to it, and to reflect the historical depth and geographical breadth of the collection, as a reassurance, and a shop window, to remind folk that the Archive is ‘open for business’ and still able to provide a service. 

 As part of the selection criteria, we have tried to showcase films where there is a link to the current situation.  For example we highlight essential workers like postal delivery workers, nurses and refuse collectors. There have also been nods to crisis planning, domestic routines, Monday Motivation, and what would have been the start to the County Championship cricket season.  Many of the showcased films are available to view online via the BFI Player but we’ve also added further content to our Vimeo channel too.

The BBC picked up on our initiative and broadcast a short TV item on North West Today on 19th April (featuring footage and a recorded FaceTime interview with Marion Hewitt) plus Geoff Senior was invited to talk about it on Radio Lancashire on 30th April. Manchester Metropolitan University also published an article on their website.  The regularity of the postings has generated positive interest, followers and interactions on social media.

VE Day

Screenshot 2020-05-26 at 11.58.34

NWFA have been helped various local groups and authorities to reach out to their communities as part of the revised VE Day celebrations.  A short edit of some of their footage taken on the day and also showing Home Front scenes was prepared and shared with groups and media teams in Manchester, Salford, Rochdale, St Helens and Liverpool.  It has also had take-up from members of the Scout Association in the UK, who are now running online meetings for their members through Zoom and are organising activities on the VE Day theme in the run up to the day.  It was also possible, thanks to the team’s forethought, to supply footage to numerous TV documentaries which were broadcast on the day.

By Marion Hewitt and Nick Gladden

North West Film Archive




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s