13.3 – Media interest, and a question about our role

The last few days have been quite interesting – for a few weeks, I’ve been talking to Emma Tracey from the BBC about an article on St Saviour’s. The history of the church is interesting, but what was more interesting to her was the fact that the RAD (who own the Acton St Saviour’s) are selling (or have sold) the church.

The article came out on Sunday and was entitled:

“UK’s first purpose-built deaf church to close”.

Acton is actually the ‘last’ purpose-built Deaf church – as in, it’s the last building remaining that was built specifically for Deaf people. The Oxford Street St Saviour’s was the ‘first’… Still, it’s all been the same congregation, and what’s important is that people are reading about the church, and the project and learning something.

And that’s great – although it has highlighted an interesting issue, over what our role is… or should be with regards to ‘policing’ the sale.

You see, we are researchers. As such, our job is to research; to gather information, deal with it neutrally, interpret it carefully, report it sensitively. We’re here to tell a story.

But… through researching the Acton church, we (the project team) have found out things that are hard to stomach… we’ve found out, for example, that some of the artefacts from the original St Saviour’s have been sold on and lost. Not on purpose… but because someone read the dates on them wrongly and thought they weren’t important.

This isn’t anyone’s ‘fault’ per se… it was a mistake, but for those who really care about the church and its story, the carelessness hurts more than the original intention to sell!

What should our role be? Should we ignore the mistakes? Should we step in and try to influence things?

Should we even, as we’ve been asked… attempt to stop the sale?

Doing too much would be an abuse of privilege… it would certainly put us on shaky ethical grounds to interfere in the internal affairs of organisations that we’re working with and that have, so far, been very honest and open with us.

Doing too little though is surely negligence, and an abdication of responsibility.

Our solution so far has been to pass information about this to the local Deaf community, and leave it to them to raise it with the organisations concerned. But that puts a lot of pressure on Deaf people who can’t scurry around after every issue we notice.

… all of this got us to wondering why, when history is so important for the Deaf community, it is so easy for powerful organisations to simply ignore the impact of their decisions, and do what they want?

  • Is it that Deaf people don’t care? Or that some don’t care, and so there’s no united vision?
  • Or is it that Deaf people do care, but are tired, under-resourced, and needing support?
  • Or is it that Deaf people are resisting, but are being swept aside and ignored?
  • Or something else?

We may not be able to directly intervene with the organisations themselves. But we can support the Deaf community with ideas, skills-training, vision, resources… and we can tell the story of how Deaf people are being ignored.

It would seem that, in a situation like this, that is our role.


11.2 – Still in the archive, and photos

I’m back in the AoHL (ex RNID) library. There’s loads of Deaf historical information here which I’m collecting that links to the St Saviour’s Church that was on Oxford Street.

My method is really to take thousands of photos – for two reasons.

First, since I don’t live in London, I can’t come in every day and look at the books when I want. So the best thing to do is to take photos, and then I can look at the books at home.

Second, the books are old… and if you read them too much they start to fall apart. The best way to work with them is to take photos once, and then keep the book safe, and work from the photos.

Note: I’ll probably be finished in here today… so I’ll be moving on to the London Metropolitan Archive tomorrow, which is where they keep all the information about the Royal Association for the Deaf.

I’m not sure if they’ll have good internet access, so I might not be able to upload from inside the archive. I’ll have to wait and see.

11.1 – In the Action on Hearing Loss Library (with BSL)

For the next three days I’ll be in London. Today, I’m in the Action on Hearing Loss (UCL) library which is hidden inside an Ear Hospital near King’s Cross Station. It has loads of Deaf history material, which I can use for the St Saviour’s project.

Historians used to spend a lot more time in archives than they do now – the use of digital cameras means that I can now take photos of all of the records (that aren’t still under copyright) and then look at them back home.

Depending on how I get on here today, I’ll be at the London Metropolitan Archive tomorrow.

10.2 – Post-viral (and with apologies)

Following a tweet from a friend*, I realised that I haven’t put an update up this week. Then, when I put the heading together, and realised I was on week 10 of the project, I did a double take.

I remember being here for some of week 9, but I wasn’t able to do anything other than sit and stare at the screen and wonder when the room would stop spinning.

Here I am, though, back – post-viral and mostly back to normal.

With two things to share.

First – having spent a lot of time in the last few weeks discussing with various people (Deaf and hearing) the need to share information with the Deaf community, and having identified that putting it on the Internet (although useful) doesn’t cut it for anywhere near everyone… we are still not really any closer to knowing how we might do that.

So here’s a cry for help – if you are Deaf, and can talk to us about how you might like us to get this information to you… or have previous experience of successfully communicating historical information like this to the Deaf community… get in touch.

I’m not looking for a ‘one off’ hit… I really do want to start to build ways that we, as academics on a project, can give back the information that we find, in ways that Deaf people will engage with.

We don’t have funding… but we have imagination. And where there is imagination… there are ways. (And where ways work, perhaps there *is* funding in the future.)

Second – I’m heading back to London on Monday next week for another three days in the archives before the Easter break shuts everything down.

I get lonely when the archives are shut. So, if you’d like to meet me while I’m there, either this time, or in the future, to talk about the project… or just spend time chatting… let me know.

* The tweet was from Rob Wilks. If you don’t know him… look him up. I don’t know him very well, but from hearing up the RAD’s legal services – you see, there had to be a link to the RAD or St Saviour’s otherwise I couldn’t justify the comment – he now has his own company as a consultant solicitor. He’s also – interestingly, just secured a place at Leicester to start a PhD looking at the recognition of BSL and its legal standing. Watch this space.