A new home for the Black Cultural Archives with a state of the art exhibition space opened this week in Brixton, South London. Founded in 1981, the Black Cultural Archives’ mission is to collect, preserve and celebrate the heritage and history of Black people in Britain. They have now opened the UK’s first dedicated Black heritage centre in Brixton, London in July 2014. Our new location will enable us to provide greater access to the archive collection, dedicated learning spaces and an exciting programme of exhibitions and events that explore British history from a unique perspective.
This unparalleled and growing archive collection offers insight into the history of people of African and Caribbean descent in Britain. The bulk of the collection is drawn from the twentieth century to the present day, while some materials date as far back as the second century. The collection includes personal papers, organisational records, rare books, ephemera, photographs, and a collection of small objects.
Work at the BCA recognises the importance of untold stories and providing a platform to encourage enquiry and dialogue. We place people and their historical accounts at the heart of everything they do. The new centre is housed in the renovated Raleigh Hall on Windrush Square, named to mark the 50th anniversary of the arrival of the Empire Windrush from Jamaica.
The new home in Brixton to be a “democratic space” The UK’s first national Black heritage cost £7m for the project to create a permanent home for the Black Cultural Archives (BCA). As well as an archive storage facility, the BCA’s new home features space for education, research and community engagement work as well as conferences, seminars and community use. Digital interactive pods sponsored by Bloomberg will enable visitors to digitally access key collections.
Paul Reid, the director of the BCA, said: “We are excited by the opportunity to reveal Black heritage throughout recorded history on these shores, and to bring our collections to life for all to learn and enjoy.”
Architects Pringles Richard Sharratt undertook the renovation of the Grade II listed building, declared at risk by English Heritage in 1992. A new loadbearing limestone wing houses the archive store and a dedicated, ﬂexible exhibition space on the ground ﬂoor, while the original building contains a learning zone, cafe and shop as well as oﬃce and administration spaces.
The project received a £4.5m Heritage Lottery Fund grant, £1m investment from the Mayor of London and £910,000 from Lambeth Council, which has also gifted the building to the archive on a 99-year lease.
Doreen Foster, the BCA’s deputy artistic director, said: “The archive has always been open to the public but people didn’t know about us, so now we’ve moved into our new purpose-built home we are trying to make sure we remain a democratic space for everyone, because our story is relevant to the majority of the population.”
The archive’s first exhibition is Re-imagine: Black Women in Britain (until 30 November), which asks visitors to reconsider some historical narratives and accounts of Black women in Britain. It is also working in partnership with the Victoria and Albert Museum in London on a photography exhibition in 2015.