Save Our Sounds will digitise 5000 precious tape recordings ‘before they are lost forever’

Interviews with a sword-swallower, a suffragette and the organiser of the Kinder Scout mass trespass…these are just some of the 5000 vulnerable sound recordings being digitised at Manchester Central Library for an exciting five-year project called Unlocking Our Sound Heritage.

Part of the British Library’s Save Our Sounds, a nationwide scheme supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, it also includes the granddaughter of a woman who witnessed the Peterloo massacre aftermath and even a Paul Simon gig.

Without digitation, these recordings - currently held on tapes at the library’s Archives+ Centre - would likely be lost forever: carriers for physical formats like cassettes and open reel degrade over time and the equipment to play them is no longer produced. Unlocking Our Sound Heritage aims to preserve the rich heritage they contain for future generations. 

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Unlocking our Sound Heritage project is supported using £9.3m from the Heritage Lottery Fund

As the project’s North West hub, Archives+ will digitise 5000 cassette and open reels held across the region - from BBC Radio Cumbria tapes in Carlisle to the Chester Archaeological Society's oral history archive - and, with the help of local volunteers, make them publicly available.

Amongst the first collections to be tackled is Manchester Studies, a pioneering oral history archive created by academics at Manchester Polytechnic (now MMU) in the seventies and eighties. Held by Tameside Local Studies and Archives, this includes hundreds of interviews with people from all over Greater Manchester who were born in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. 

Trade unions, domestic service, pioneering women in politics, the cotton industry, pawn broking, Trafford Park, music halls, maternity services and housing…the collection provides a snapshot of working class life in the first half of the twentieth century, making it a goldmine for family and social historians. 

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Central Library’s Archives+ is Save Our Sounds’ North West hub

Executive Member for Skills, Culture and Leisure, Councillor Luthfur Rahman, said: “This project will digitally preserve and share some of the most vulnerable sound recordings in the North West, while breaking new ground in sharing our fascinating local history. It will also open up new opportunities for residents to get involved personally, through volunteering.   

"Thanks to the team's expertise in engaging people with archive materials and inspiring communities to celebrate their own history, Archives+ at Central Library is the perfect base for this important project for the whole region.   

"It’s vital that we work to digitise these precious audio recordings now, before they are lost forever.”

To hear some recordings that have already been digitised, visit Central Library’s Archives+ exhibition on the ground floor or visit the blog.

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