Established to celebrate Black culture and connect people to their history, the Black Cultural Archives (BCA) is a unique institution whose home is in Windrush Square in the heart of Brixton. Now in its 40th year, it is the UK’s first and only national heritage centre dedicated to collecting, preserving and promoting the histories of African and Caribbean people in Britain.
Lisa Anderson and Dr Yvonne Thompson CBE have recently joined as Managing Director and Chair of the Trustees respectively, and Leslie Manasseh spoke to them about their plans and vision for the future.
Both share a passionate commitment to racial equality, social justice and to celebrating Black history. And each brings the kind of knowledge and skills which can consolidate and develop the BCA in its next phase. One thing is very clear from the outset. They are enormously ambitious for the BCA.
Lisa Anderson has a background in the arts, curatorial work, fund-raising and business strategy and development. From her academic studies, she developed an interest in social justice in relation to the “Black diaspora and the links between culture and social and political power dynamics….. Many years ago I fell in love with the BCA because it joined up so many dots of my interest in arts, culture, history and Brixton”
Yvonne Thompson started the first Black owned PR company, the first legally owned Black radio station (Choice FM) and the first Black women in business network. Clearly a self-starter, she is a determined and successful entrepreneur and a champion of equality with huge experience in management and leadership.
We talked about the very challenging times we live in. Racism, inequality and discrimination live on. On matters such as the ongoing Windrush scandal, the Black Lives Matter movement and how Black history needs to be integrated in the school curriculum, Lisa sees the BCA, as the national heritage centre, having “a crucial voice in this conversation” and redressing an imbalance in the narrative about the place of black people in Britain “The BCA was born from a hope for a more just British society, able to acknowledge the breadth of historic contributions made by Black people”.
We also talked about an archive as a concept – and how it might be viewed by the local community. One of their ambitions is to reframe the debate to breathe new life into the notion of an archive and to make it more accessible as a unique collection of stories about people. The archives are not just a dry documents. With photos, objects, exhibitions and events, they are rich and living histories – stories of activism, struggles and success. A world to explore, not simply a record of the past.
In Lisa’s words “We want people to be more aware and comfortable with what the archive is – that it is a means of honouring the lives of and empowering black people by bringing together individual and family histories”.
Yvonne added “we are bringing the concept right up to date to make sure that young people know about the gold dust in our archives so they learn how they got here.”
That said, BCA is not just about African and Caribbean communities in Brixton and the Windrush generation. It has an important contribution the understanding of the history of the United Kingdom since the time of the Roman empire. In Lisa’s words “Black history is British history”.
While both acknowledge its importance to the local community, they are also very keen to be outward-looking to promote the BCA’s national and international role and reach. In Yvonne’s words “We are stretching our tentacles right across the UK …. and internationally to create partnerships”
They are looking to strengthen the BCA’s resources. Their commercial skills and experience will be put to good use as they implement plans for more events, corporate projects and partnerships and a greater on-line presence. Yvonne was very clear that “It’s very important that as an organisation we have our own financial freedom”.
Although the coming period is one of transition, it’s not all about change. Lisa and Yvonne pay tribute to all those who have brought the BCA this far. “It’s about respecting their achievements and building on the values they established, as much as generating fresh energy to craft new ventures and sustainable partnerships to provide the revenue streams which will help ensure out future”.
And they hope to project a more confident and proactive voice in the future and to get the message out more widely. They plan to have “a stronger, clearer, more impactful BCA in place by the end of the year”.
And their message to the people of Brixton? They want much more engagement from the local community. They want people coming in to discover, to learn from and to enjoy their treasures and for the BCA to be a “beloved Brixton landmark”