Getting social in the archives

The life of a project archivist can sometimes be quite isolated.  You can spend hours on your own in the archives arranging and cataloguing records. But sometimes a project comes along where you get to interact more with people, as I have discovered working on the Social Enterprise Collection (Scotland).

Colour photograph of Project Archivist working at a desk with bundles of papers with Archive Centre banner in the background.

Working on records in the Archive Centre

Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) Archive Centre holds the Social Enterprise Collection (Scotland) which is a national archive of records from organisations and individuals involved in the social enterprise movement across Scotland.  Social enterprises are businesses which reinvest profits for the ‘common good’.  They help to address problems of social deprivation, provide training and employment, help regenerate and bring empowerment to communities.  Its ideals have been practiced throughout history and various social movements have emerged periodically, including Cooperative Societies in the 19th century. The 1970s brought a new wave of social enterprise to Scotland and John Pearce was one of the leading forces behind this. He pioneered developments which led to Scotland having the largest social enterprise programme in the UK.  His archive was the first to be deposited in the collection, in 2011, and those of his contemporaries have followed. Details of the collection can be found on the Scottish social enterprise webpage.

Screenshot of the webpage showing the list of social enterprise collections

Scottish social enterprise webpage

In September 2018 GCU secured Scottish Government funding for the collection which has enabled a collaborative project with the University’s Yunus Centre for Social Business and Health and the University Archive Centre to preserve and catalogue existing social enterprise collections and carry out research and outreach work to showcase and build on the collections. Working with Dr Gillian Murray, the project’s researcher, we have created an exhibition using archive material to show the history of Scottish social enterprise.  When not in the Archive Centre  working on the collection, I am now out and about with Gillian taking our exhibition across Scotland, talking about the collection and networking with people in social enterprise. Little did I imagine at the start of the project that we would be immortalized as cute cartoon characters on tour!

Cartoon illustration of Kirsty and Gill beside a map of Scotland showing location of some social enterprises

Exhibition artwork by Magic Torch Comics

Another social aspect to my work is to encourage others to donate their records for the collection.  It is not just big organisations that we are interested in but the small grassroots social enterprises and entrepreneurs.  They do not always realise how important their records are in showing the development and significance of the movement in Scotland.  Much as I enjoy cataloguing it is refreshing to have the opportunity to chat with people and in doing so I have gained a better understanding of social enterprise.  It is such a pleasure to work on an inspirational collection like this, but even better to hear first-hand of the positive impact it has had on people.

The other social aspect to the project is engaging via social media to show off some of the amazing items from the collection and our exhibition.  We can be found on Twitter under #SocEntCollectionScot.  With all this interaction going on you could say that the project is social enterprise in name and enterprisingly social in nature.


Kirsty Menzies

Project Archivist



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