Coram’s Foundling Hospital archive is held at London Metropolitan Archives (LMA) and is fragile and vulnerable, in part due to its status as one of LMA’s most popular holdings. Formed of over 245 linear metres of records, it reveals the details of the lives of children in its care from the 18th century and will digitise some 112,000 images over the period to 1900, a quarter of the archive which is unbroken to the present day.
Made possible by National Lottery players, Coram’s four-year project, Voices Through Time: The Story of Care, will secure access to the precious materials including Petition Letters from mothers seeking entry for their children and the Billet Books containing fabric tokens they left with their children. These will be safeguarded for future generations and brought to life for new audiences who will be able to view it online for the first time.
Young people in and leaving care today will undertake creative projects, using the archive material to illuminate the past, gain new skills and build public understanding of the issues of separation and care which continue today. More than 100 young people will be directly involved, working with creative partners through writing, theatre, film and displays, connecting the stories from the past with their experiences of the present.
These projects include:
- Exploring letters in the archive and learning how to craft their own letters on issues of public interest or social problems to those in positions of influence
- Creating a film on the subject of ‘home’ through engaging with former Foundling Hospital pupils on what home means to them
- Devising a display linking the day-to-day routine of the Foundling Hospital with young people’s experiences today
The founder of the Foundling Hospital, Thomas Coram, was a pioneer of children’s rights and welfare, and the archive reveals how he led the way in the development of supervised foster care and in championing equal education for boys and girls. Over the centuries, more than 25,000 children were rescued, and today, Coram continues its mission by working in diverse ways to improve the lives of the UK’s most vulnerable children and young people.
Dr Carol Homden, CEO of Coram, said: “Coram’s Foundling Hospital archive represents not just an unbroken institutional narrative, but individual human lives, and it is our duty to ensure its long-term sustainability for future generations. This generous grant from The National Lottery Heritage Fund will enable us to do so, whilst revealing the history of the care system to a whole new audience through online accessibility for the first time.
“The lives of children in care still remain largely misunderstood by the wider public, and children in care are often underrepresented in access to heritage. This project will give care-experienced young people opportunities to engage directly with the archive enriching the story of care by adding their own voices, whilst increasing understanding about their lives and experiences.”
Stuart Hobley, Area Director London & South at The National Lottery Heritage Fund, said: “Coram’s archive is a fantastic example of how heritage can be so relevant to people and society today. Thanks to National Lottery players, this project will put care-experienced young people at the heart of exploring the history of the care system and give them the opportunity to add their own voices to this incredibly important archive of the UK’s first children’s charity.”
The archive documents will be transcribed with the support of a global community of volunteers and will be made accessible to the general public at coramstory.org.uk along with stories and content from the projects created by care-experienced young people, and an online interactive timeline of care.