New Diary Day marks International Day of People with Disabilities

23 November 2016

By Anthony McCoubrey

As part of International Day of People with Disabilities, the Mass Observation Archive at the University of Sussex is inviting people to get involved and keep a day diary on Saturday 3rd December 2016.

The Mass Observation Archive has been recording everyday life in Britain since 1937 and we have collected material relating to a variety of topics and people’s experiences.  We continue to do this today through our panel of writers and our May 12th Diary Day, when members of the public can contribute their day diary to the archive.

This year, we are holding an additional Diary day on 3rd December as part of our Beyond Boxes project. Funded by a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, this two-year access and engagement project is working to address barriers, whether they be attitudinal, educational, social or physical, that people may experience when trying to access archive collections.

We would like to encourage people to record their day on 3rd December and send it to the Mass Observation Archive, which is housed at The Keep in Falmer, where it will be kept and used by researchers, students and members of the public. All diary entries are anonymised so the diarist’s identity will not be made public, nor will any of their personal details.

By working in partnership with different groups and getting the wider public engaged we hope to ensure that our archive includes and celebrates the diversity of people’s lives and experiences in 21st century Britain.


Please do get in touch if you would like to get involved with the Beyond Boxes project. To record your diary for the Mass Observation Archive on 3rd December 2016, please look at our website for further information, templates and advice on completing and submitting your diary.

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Introducing ‘Beyond Boxes’, a new Mass Observation Archive project

13 September 2016

By Anthony McCoubrey

The Mass Observation Archive (MOA) is working in partnership with Blind Veterans UK, the Brighton Housing Trust and Lewes Prison to open up access to archive collections.

The two-year Beyond Boxes project, which launched last week, is supported by a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The project aims to break down the barriers many people face in trying to use archives, be these physical, attitudinal or educational, to ensure that heritage is open and accessible to all.

Beyond Boxes will include a range of activities and events, such as a diary day in December for International Day of Disabled People, along with a programme of outreach and in-house workshops at The Keep. The project will enable participants to explore, debate and learn about daily life in Britain and make contributions to the Mass Observation Archive that reflect their own lives and experiences of life in 21st century Britain.

Anthony McCoubrey, Beyond Boxes Project Coordinator, said: ‘Heritage comes in many social and cultural forms; from historic buildings, to the natural world, to individual possessions.

‘But it is also tradition passed down through personal stories, experiences, or writings. Everyone should have the opportunity to contribute their personal heritage so that it is recorded, represented and made available to a wider audience through the Mass Observation Archive.”

Katherine Bradley, Members Activities Manager at Blind Veterans UK, said: “Blind Veterans UK is excited to be part of this project. It is wonderful that the experiences of the veterans the charity supports will be recorded and available as part of this project, as well as that all records will be accessible for those with a vision-impairment.”

Sara Peskett, at Brighton Housing Trust, said: ‘People who are street homeless face multiple barriers to accessing and engaging with heritage in Brighton and Hove. Despite forming a significant part of the community within the city, the heritage of people who are rough sleeping and their thoughts, experiences and memories are underrepresented. Beyond Boxes is a fantastic initiative providing many opportunities for clients of BHT to engage with and actively contribute to the historical archives.”

Emma Bach, Librarian at Lewes Prison, said: ‘Beyond Boxes will help to remove barriers to our archives and capture voices outside of the mainstream. It can also offer prisoners opportunities to identify where they ‘are’ now, inspire goals for change and hopes for a different future – vital steps in the process of rehabilitation.’

For further information about the project, please get in touch by contacting The Keep on 01273 482349, or contact the Mass Observation Archive at And you can keep updated about the project in the Keep’s blog space.




Meet the Staff: Asa Briggs Intern Anthony McCoubrey

28 September 2015

By Anthony McCoubrey   Anthony

Arriving at The Keep for my first day as the new Asa Briggs intern was reminiscent of the beginning of the new school term with the new faces and names to remember. But unlike school there was the task of navigating around a large building filled with a treasure trove of archival material including maps, pictures, oral histories and manuscripts that chart the history of the area and the people who made it.

I had the added bonus that I have worked at The Keep before. In all, this made starting a new job all the less daunting. Built just on the edge of the city of Brighton and Hove, The Keep lies sandwiched between the large Moulsecoomb housing estate and the city’s two universities. Opened in 2013, it is a one stop shop for archives in the East Sussex area.

Walking around the store rooms of The Keep, one becomes aware of the vast amount of information held among the boxes and containers of the Keep partners. Being a non-native resident of the county it soon became clear that there is a wealth of information to help learn about this part of the country and that the Keep is one of the best places to do it.

On my first day working in the reading room I was both amazed and interested by the variety of material being used by Keep’s visitors. The items exchanged included sketches from the Rudyard Kipling collection, Mass Observation directive responses and my favourite of that day, a map of Brighton that showed my current home as virtually on the verge of the countryside. It’s now what is called ‘inner city.’

These items are only a tiny fraction of the material that are in the collections. I am lucky enough that my role also allows me to explore and work alongside material that I find of interest. Being from a social history background, it’s the thoughts and reflections of people that have the power to almost hypnotise me. None so better than those wartime writers for Mass Observation such as Nella Last. In preparation for the event ‘Afternoon Tea with Nella’ at the Keep I had the task of selecting some of her writings for visitors to have a look at after they listened to a talk by the Mass Observation Curator Fiona Courage and Kirsty Pattrick, the Mass Observation Project Officer. Reading through Nella’s diaries and directive responses made me realise the role of archivist in preserving the past to provide for the future, something which I will keep as a mental note over the next year.

My first few weeks at The Keep have already taught me a lot about archives and no doubt this knowledge will develop as I progress through my internship. Although being at The Keep has been an exciting experience so far, I think if I was asked to sum up the building and the work that goes on here it would be ‘subtle vibrancy.’ The busyness of the staff corridors where people, amongst other workings, catalogue and conserve material is counteracted by the quietness of the repository block where rows of boxes find their place comfortably beside one another and the vibrant enthusiasm in a visitor’s voice when they whisper in the quietness of the reading room that they have found the one thing they have been looking for, for ages.