Chronicle Blog – Eleanor Hill
The Chronicle’s Volunteer Blog features blog posts and articles about what it’s like to be a part of the Chronicle Project and is written by our volunteers.
This post is by Eleanor Hill, who has been with the Chronicle Project since it began! Eleanor’s research has mainly focused on Cardiff Women and their role in Cardiff’s history of activism and volunteering.
I found the Chronicle project when I was looking for voluntary work that would help me as well as to help others. I think that is often the way these days. Chronicle looked exciting because it promised access to archives to work on social history; proper social history of communities and people in Cardiff, my adopted city.
Like many people, my idea of volunteering was quite narrow. When I discovered the definition used in Chronicle – the giving of ones time for free – it opened up the possibility of investigating women’s activism.
I started by looking at campaigns for abortion rights as I am a founder member of Abortion Rights Cardiff. I chose to begin by looking at the 1980s – a very pivotal time for women’s rights in the UK. What I discovered were links to many women still active today, their work in the 80s and 90s, and a how involved they were in a huge range of community projects.
The period I’ve explored saw the creation of Cardiff Women’s Centre, the establishment of Welsh Women’s Aid, and the opening of the BPAS clinic. Campaigners worked with the council to celebrate women in the arts and open up new opportunities for training and employment for the women and girls of South Wales.
And, of course, the first steps on the road to Greenham Common’s peace camp were taken from the front of City Hall here in Cardiff. Mapping the links between campaigns for women’s rights, refuges, access to healthcare and jobs, and freedom illustrated the scope of their achievements. All were inextricably tied too with wider struggles for peace and justice.
Local archives and museums hold a wealth of history but it can be surprisingly hard to track each piece down and join the dots. Another very important resource are the volunteers themselves and their memories of events, now being collected in the form of oral history recordings.
That’s where this project comes into its own. Our database is growing every day and it can feel like an impossible task. Each new record offers another lead into the spider’s web of people’s achievements. Some of our projects overlap – so often in Charles Street – but more and more new organisations are coming to light.
Working on this project has brought me some of the gains I had hoped for. I have received excellent technical training – digital training which is so important these days and so hard to keep up to date on your own.
I’ve met some great people, some staying with the project some only able to join for a short while. And I’ve identified a new career path that I hope will see me back in employment. So it has given me a lot.
But it has also shown me how much grassroots activism can achieve and, sadly, how fragile those achievements can be if as they develop they lose that volunteer spirit. Thinking positively, there has been a resurgence in voluntary work in recent years, for all sorts of reasons, and long term projects still flourish and develop proving that it can be done.
So I hope that volunteering regains its best purpose of improving life for communities and not just the individual. The Chronicle project proves just how important and effective voluntary work can be.