The Aviation and Aerospace Archives Initiative

'To Infinity and Beyond!' Preserving and promoting the records of Britain’s aviation and aerospace heritage

(c) Peter Davison
(c) Peter Davison

Conference Report

'To Infinity and Beyond!', Aerospace Bristol, 12 February 2020

After over a year of planning, delegate registrations were initially slow but a final rush in January saw around 100 participants; close to the maximum occupancy limit at Aerospace Bristol. The provision of coffee and lunch and efficient presentation facilities all contributed to the smooth running of this successful event, generously supported by the Royal Aeronautical Society Foundation and Aerospace Bristol. 

Sir George White, whose family started aircraft production in Bristol, welcomed everybody and not only described the Company evolution but gave specific examples of archive discoveries arising from significant historical records.  Professor David Edgerton, Hans Rausing Professor of Science and Technology at Kings College London, then set the scene with further examples of the power of archives to challenge myths and established narratives.

A Boeing video presentation demonstrated how corporate strategy uses archives to inform and support staff and customers while Ally McConnell of Gloucestershire Archives described the rapid process required when Company history has to be ‘saved’ in a hurry.  The importance of volunteers was highlighted in this and the presentation from the Farnborough Air Sciences Trust, demonstrating the benefit of harnessing former employees in documenting and presenting the history of the RAE and Royal Aircraft Factory.

During the amicable lunch when old and new friends caught up and shared experiences a real family atmosphere set the scene for an engaging afternoon.  During the time various conservation activities were on view in an adjoining room, and there was a presentation of historic film from the Wessex Film Archives.

The afternoon session saw Tim Powell and Mike Rogers from the National Archives and Alison Turton of the Business Archives Council describe the Initiative’s vision. Mike is compiling Guidance aimed specifically at the under resourced voluntary sector to encourage compatible documentation and responsible conservation. This guidance is a work in progress but will be widely circulated. The  document will evolve over time. A survey of archive content and locations, led by Alison and Nina Hadaway, will proceed in parallel. It was emphasised that there is no intention to transfer archives from one repository to another; merely to compile and share knowledge.

This was followed by an inspired report and tutorial from Andrew Lewis from Brooklands on how to recruit, retain, inspire and reward volunteers.  This successful Air and Motor museum has over 800 volunteers of all ages, so is well placed to offer advice. Despite concerns over an ageing community we were reminded from the floor that every year a new bunch of retirees become available in the 50-65 age group.

We then enjoyed an enthusiastic presentation on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) opportunities and best practice from Amy Seadon of Aerospace Bristol, showing the importance of engaging teachers, parents and students of all ages by providing learning experiences beyond anything they can enjoy at home, at school or on-line.

Before a final summary session, Howard Mason from BAE Systems, whose archive covers most of the numerous British companies involved in the sector since the early days, gave advice on how to make knowledge available to both the parent company and the general public.

Delegates generally commented on how useful and inspiring the day had been and were eager to know ‘what comes next?’  The initial answer is to consider if the Initiative needs formal establishment or continues as a ‘meeting of the minds’ on a more casual basis. The guidance and survey work is on-going.  Further financial support, this event being supported by the Royal Aeronautical Society, is needed; possibly a Lottery bid.  The enthusiasm for building an informed partnership should ensure this Initiative should go from strength to strength.

Watch this website for future developments.

Peter Davison AMRAeS, Aviation Heritage UK

15 February 2020