Welcome to the Disabled People’s Archive!
This is an exciting project which has been a number of years in the making, and will continue to grow in years to come!
The Disabled People’s Archive is run by Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People with the support of Archives+ which is part of Manchester Central Library. We are proud to be the guardians of such a wealth and breadth of material that actually comes from disabled people's history as well as recording our history.
How did we get to where we are today?
Shortly after the turn of the millennium, some members of GMCDP began talking about the need to properly house and preserve the history of the Disabled People’s Movement, our activism, creativity and all the hard work involved in fighting for inclusion in society.
This led to receiving a grant from Heritage Lottery Fund to undertake a one-year feasibility study into setting up a national Disabled People’s Movement archive. The work for this began in 2004 in partnership with the British Council of Disabled People and Birmingham Coalition of Disabled People. There was also strong support from local interests, such as the Greater Manchester County Records Office, and academics including Colin Barnes from the Centre for Disability Studies at the University of Leeds.
Part of the study involved in-depth contact with, and sending questionnaires to, disabled people’s organisations and some individuals. As a result of this, although the project was not set up to collect material, a number of organisations and individuals sent their collections to GMCDP. Some reasons given were groups folding, the fear of material being damaged while being stored in lofts or garages, and a concern that once a person had died their collection would be thrown away by relatives who did not understand its importance.
As a result of this, 54 archive boxes were deposited in the Greater Manchester County Records Office for safe-keeping in 2006. They have since been in ‘deep storage’ - an old mine in Derbyshire which has been converted to a climate-controlled vault.
Although responses to this work were very positive, further funding was not available at the time. Despite this, interest has not diminished. Organisations and individuals have continued to ask GMCDP to receive their precious collections of documents, magazines, posters and much more.
There have been other initiatives around the UK to set up a national archive of disabled people’s history. GMCDP took part in discussions, but unfortunately none have come to fruition yet. There are some small or specific archives, but no initiative as substantial as GMCDP’s original plan. You can find a list of other archives here.
In 2016, GMCDP once again had the capacity to consider taking forward the preservation of disabled people’s history.
Discussions began with Archives+ - a centre of excellence for heritage and local history based in Manchester Central Library.
Archives+ has an interest in what are known as community archives. These are archives produced by the people within the communities the collection embraces.
An excellent relationship has developed between GMCDP and Archives+, and we are now seeking funding with their support to fully catalogue the archive and make it available to view in the Archives+ Search Room.
The growth of the archive GMCDP holds meant that around another 170 archive boxes were deposited with Archives+ between 2016 and 2019. These are stored in their vault, which is climate controlled to international archiving standards.
In June 2018, GMCDP employed an Archive Worker to begin sorting and cataloguing. With the support of Archives+, around 6% of the archive was catalogued by the end of 2019, with another 2% being ‘sorted’ in preparation for detailed cataloguing.
The Archive was formally launched on 9 June 2019 at an event in Manchester Central Library attended by over 70 people. There was great interest in being able to view and handle some of the material from the archive, although the more delicate or rare items were only available to handle using copies, with the originals there to view behind protective film.
As part of the launch, an archives themed Coalition magazine was produced.
It is thanks to sustained and diligent work by volunteers that the collection has grown to the size it is now. This work, and more people finding out about the archive, especially since the launch in June 2019, has attracted a number of additional collections to Archives+, such as those of the Union of the Physically Impaired Against Segregation (UPIAS 1972-1990), Professor Colin Barnes, Dame Jane Campbell and the Lorraine Gradwell Campaign Clothing Collection.
In March 2020, the collections donated to GMCDP and its own collection were externally evaluated as 130 linear metres, so it takes up shelving as long as a line of 14 double-decker buses. It is estimated that it will take two years of a full-time archive worker and records assistant to complete cataloguing the whole archive.
GMCDP is proud to be able to preserve this unique and invaluable resource. It brings together published and unpublished records from a range of organisations, demonstrating the power of collective action and highlights the achievements of the Disabled People’s Movement.
Our overall aim is to ensure as many people as possible can access this significant resource, and the next phase will be to systematically catalogue the archive and make parts of it available via open viewing, exhibitions, web access and publications.
What is available to view
Around 6% of the archive can be viewed in the Archives+ Search Room at Manchester Central Library.
You can search the Archives+ catalogue or please contact us if you would like us to send you an excel version.
We do intend to produce more accessible versions of the catalogue when funding permits.
Coalition magazine archive theme
In June 2019, a Coalition magazine was produced, to coincide with the launch of the archive. It has articles about archives from a national perspective, about the Disabled People’s archive itself (it used to be called the GMCDP Archive), and more. You can download the magazine here:
Archives+ has created an archive centre of excellence in the heart of Manchester. The project brings together statutory, university and voluntary organisations to provide a holistic range of archive and heritage services from one location.
The partners include the North West Film Archive (Manchester Metropolitan University [British Film Institute]), The Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Race Relations Resource Centre (University of Manchester), the Manchester and Lancashire Family History Society, Manchester Archives and Local Studies (Manchester City Council) and the Greater Manchester County Record Office (GMCA).
Archives+ raises awareness of and provides easy access to our histories for the broadest possible audiences.
Find out much more by going to their website: http://www.archivesplus.org
Comments about the Archive from the Launch
What does an archive and history of the Disabled people’s movement mean to you?
- Finally having a place that tells our story of our struggle for equality.
- A place where I can understand the lives and commitments of disabled people, also learning how to take part in activism.
- It means documenting the stories and lives of a history that is seldom told or understood.
- Not forgetting the lessons the movement has learned.
- An archive and history of disabled people’s movement is vital and crucial for people to be educated about the determination of disabled people to fight for their rights. The archive is testimonial to their attempts to be included and become an inclusive member during their lifetime; it will also help young disabled people to realise not to give up.
Why do you think it is important to document the history of the movement?
- So we can become equal by learning.
- Because it is the unknown hard fought part of human rights claimed by charities hidden under the bed of activists who work tirelessly often unknown. We must remember the fight to keep the right we have.
- Memory is fragile and enemies re-write our history.
- The ‘quieter’ unsung heroes need their contributions to the wider struggle recording and sharing.
- Younger disabled people can learn from past successes and mistakes and incorporate our own experiences into a wider fight for equality and feel part of a powerful movement.