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Meet the Funders

Mitchell Library, 29 June 2016

The four ingredients for a really successful event are good organisation, a topical subject, good speakers and audience involvement. The ‘Meet the Funders’ half-day event held at The Mitchell, Glasgow, on 29 June, had all those ingredients.

The SCA Preservation Committee and SCA staff organised everything to perfection. The subject of external funding opportunities is certainly topical given the resource constraints in the archives sector in Scotland. The speakers were outstanding, not only in terms of clarity of content and fluency of delivery but also in their ability to relate both to the sector as a whole and to an audience dealing daily with the concerns of archives.

The speakers provided their particular expertise and experience. On the one hand were those who facilitate the process of assessing grants and making awards to successful applicants, on the other those who had secured funding and undertook successful projects. What quickly emerged during the proceedings - reinforced at questions - was the total absence of any hint of ‘them and us’. Those giving funding and those receiving it were both focussed on one common objective – the success of each project.

What is seen as constituting success could be summed up in the single word access. While the immediate concern is the practicalities of preservation and conservation, the fundamental purpose of the funding is to make material accessible to users.

The funders employ different models to achieve their core purpose. The National Manuscripts Conservation Trust (NMCT) seeks the applicant body (which must not be a national institution) to commit a set sum to a project of conservation and preservation work on particular documents or collections. Where NMCT works its magic is in its ability to attract additional funding that extends or underpins that project. The approach has been outstandingly successful in Wales where since 2011 an NMCT partnership with the Welsh Government has resulted in grants to applicants totalling £140,000, a significant return on the government’s commitment of £20,000.

The NMCT approach could work well for Scotland, especially if it were focussed on ensuring the preservation of documents that provided significant insights into important parts of Scottish history.

The Wellcome Trust is an independent global charity dedicated to improving health and committed to spending £5 billion over the next five years. The trust recognises the importance of archives relevant to health and interprets ‘health’ as something much wider than medical history. There is as much interest in living conditions affecting health as there is in the operations of a hospital or a surgery.

Scotland already has an impressive record when it comes to the Wellcome Trust funding, securing fully 43 per cent of the research resources available to archives and libraries in the UK. That is a tribute to the quality of applications from Scotland.

Three recipients of grants – from Aberdeen City Archives, Glasgow University Archive Service and Glasgow City archives – spoke about their individual experience of the whole process, from pre-application preparation, through running a project, to successful conclusion.

On reflection, the four ingredients for a successful event really should be five, namely its impact. If the event leads directly to an increase in the number of successful applications from Scotland, then that is a measure of success with a ‘£’ sign in front of it. The opportunities are there. The funders made it clear that they positively encourage applications. They are very willing to advise and support applicants. For staff already under pressure in a small sector that open and helpful approach from funders is enormously valuable.

SCA is committed to continued working with potential funders and with the archives sector in Scotland to ensure that experience is shared and the opportunities for successful applications are increased.

But one thing needs to be remembered – if you’re not in, you don’t win. Consult the funding bodies websites, think about what would particularly benefit your archive service and its users, then work up that application.

A Word from the Funders

Nell Hoare on National Manuscripts Conservation Trust Funding

The Recipient

Ruaraidh Wishart discusses Aberdeenshire's NMCT Funding

Welcome to Wellcome

Sources of funding from the Wellcome Trust