Lockdown 2020 – one year on

Empty Oxford CC BY-NC-SA Petros Spanou

On the 16th March 2020, a message from the British Prime Minister was broadcast, asking everyone to stop non-essential contact with others (https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/pm-statement-on-coronavirus-16-march-2020). Students at the University of Oxford had already been advised to return home where possible (13th March), and following the Prime Minister’s message, all staff were asked to work from home. As people gathered laptops, files, and office paraphernalia, few realised they would not be returning to classrooms, libraries, or offices for the next 12 months. Under tightening restrictions, students and staff adjusted to a ‘new normal’ way of life, working and studying remotely from offices set up in attics, kitchens, spare rooms, and garden sheds.

The University has seen pandemics and lockdowns before, and the college archives hold rich accounts of life behind closed doors. As the Covid-19 pandemic spread, and the country went into lockdown, various initiatives were set in motion to gather information and document this special time. One such initiative was Lockdown 2020, a small project run at the University of Oxford, using tools and methods previously employed to crowdsource memorabilia and stories from the First World War. Members of the University were invited to share their experiences and images through an online platform and the material was catalogued, preserved and made available online. The aim was not to gather a substantial, representative sample of material or to document the experiences of the whole University, but mainly to get a snapshot, a time capsule, featuring contributions from staff and students that could complement other official and unofficial accounts and sources.

One year on, the collection is still open and contributions are trickling in. The material gathered during the first lockdown (March-July 2020) has been analysed and some interesting observations have been made, for example about the language used in the submissions (see The Language of Lockdown https://medium.com/talking-languages/the-language-of-lockdown-cf0dae00fe7a). As the anniversary of the launch of the project is approaching, it may be a good time to reflect on the initiative also from a different angle, to look at the project and see what has worked well and what could have been done differently.

The idea for the Lockdown 2020 initiative came naturally to the team who has previously been involved in various community collections. A collection platform was already available, so it was a fairly simple step to set this up for the new collection. However, as anyone working on community collection projects will know, the technical infrastructure is but a small part of a project. A greater challenge is to reach potential contributors and encourage them to share their material. The Lockdown 2020 project started very small by reaching out to the most local of communities, the home department. As the submission form and process was refined, the collection was opened out to a wider audience. However, without anyone being able to dedicate time or effort to the project, communications and outreach was on a ‘best effort’ basis, often done through existing channels and, thus, reaching only a small section of the potential user base.

A marked changed came as the project was successful in securing a small grant from the Higher Education Innovation Fund and ESRC Impact Acceleration Account through the University of Oxford’s COVID-19: Economic, Social, Cultural, & Environmental Impacts — Urgent Response Fund. The funds were used to engage a project assistant to spend some time on the project. It was decided that the area to focus on was communication and outreach. The new team member spent time on promoting the project in general but was also able to successfully engage with groups and communities that the original team would struggle to reach, such as various student communities. Through these activities, the collection grew in size and, possibly more importantly, now features a wider range of contributors. It is still a very small collection, but interesting to note is that of the 200-odd contributions, about half were submitted during the six weeks when the project had a dedicated project team members who not only had the time but also the skills and channels to successfully promote the project and encourage participation.

The Lockdown 2020 collection will be archived and preserved. It can also be freely explored online. Although small, it covers a range of material and browsing through it is a good way to be reminded of what things were like a year ago, when working from home was novel,  streets were empty and we were unused to seeing people wearing face masks. Looking at the project today, one year on, it is not only the content of the collection that can be interesting. For someone interested in community collections, or other forms of crowdsourcing, it may also be useful to consider some of the lessons learned from this simple project. The first one may be that this project has shown that you can generate something interesting and worthwhile even with minimal effort and resources. Following on from that, we can only emphasise the difference communication effort and skill cam make to a project’s success. Even a small injection of effort can make a big difference. One important thing to remember is that you never know what will happen to your project and how it will be affected by the context in which it is perceived and created. With that in mind, we may conclude that maybe our biggest mistakes so far has been in the naming of the project. But who thought we’d still be here, in lockdown, long after the end of the year 2020?

The collection is still open for new contributions from members of the University, and anyone can explore the current collection at http://lwf.it.ox.ac.uk/s/lockdown/. As you visit the site, you may notice that it is now called ‘Lockdown 2020 and beyond’. Lesson learned.

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Documenting a special time: Oxford community collection initiatives

We are living though an extraordinary time. Over a few short weeks, life has changed and with little notice we have adjusted by changing what we do, where we are, who we see. It is not surprising to see that a number of initiatives have sprung up, looking to document what is happening now. We are making history, and we have the means to record it. Running a community collection online is an obvious way to do so in these times. Although a community collection campaign can be a big undertaking, it doesn’t have to be. If you limit the scope and use technology and procedures that you already have in place, you will see that you too can run a community collection. And not only during extraordinary times.

Here we feature some community collection initiatives currently running in Oxford. Use them to inspire you and feel free to get in touch to discuss your ideas for current or future collections.

Lockdown 2020 – daily life at the University of Oxford

Having worked with community collections for over a decade, it was natural for the RunCoCo team to look at running a community collection initiative now. With limited resources, we follow our own advice and focus on a community which we can relate to and engage with though existing channels. For us that is Oxford University and the people who are part of it, so our community collection aims to capture daily life at the University, shared by students and staff.

Website: http://lwf.it.ox.ac.uk/s/lockdown

Obviously, the University does not exist in a vacuum. We are fortunate to be able to collaborate with the Museum of Oxford who are running a community collection aiming to capture stories and images of Oxford city life.

The Covid-19 Pandemic and Oxford

The Museum of Oxford is collecting objects and stories that relate to feelings and responses of people in the city during the Covid-19 pandemic. Anyone can share their story and/or object(s) though an online form. Contributions are archived and displayed on the website.

Website: https://museumofoxford.omeka.net/exhibits/show/ the-covid-19-pandemic-and-oxfo/c19

By working together, we can do much more than what either of us could do alone, capturing Oxford ‘town’ and ‘gown’ at an extraordinary time in history.

Oxfordshire History Centre

In addition to the online Oxford Town and Gown collections, the Oxfordshire History Centre is collecting material for its archive and future exhibitions. They are happy to receive both digital and physical material. In addition to the archival collection, the centre is also encouraging people to share stories and pictures though a Facebook group.

Archive: https://www.oxfordshirehistory.org.uk/public/covid/appeal.htm

Facebook: Oxfordshire History Covid Lockdown Pictures and Stories

Life-Writing of Immeasurable Events (LIVE)

Finally, although community collections may be thought of as something involving objects or pictures, it can also take other forms. The Centre for Life writing are interested in literary and creative responses to this time, and are encouraging people to use life writing to reflect on this time, their situation or experiences.  If the author agrees, contributions may be published on the website and featured in their Instagram account.

LIVE: https://oclw.web.ox.ac.uk/immeasurable-events/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/immeasurable_events/

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Digital Bodleian calendar competition

How do you pick 12 images for a calendar when you have millions to choose from? The Bodleian Libraries are turning to the crowd to select the content for their 2021 calendar. Take part for the chance of winning your own copy of the calendar. Or maybe simply as an excuse to explore the amazing, growing Digital Bodleian collection. Should you need one.

How to take part:

The deadline is Sunday 31 May 2020. Good luck!

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Crowdsourcing ideas for digital projects


The University of Oxford has been using crowdsourcing to identify good ideas that can be realised as digital projects. The IT Innovation Challenges scheme has been running since 2014 and funded over 60 projects covering a range of areas and approaches, using both existing and emerging technologies to bring benefit to the University, its students and staff.

The scheme is using an open innovation model for its calls, inviting members of the University to share their ideas through a dedicated platform, where others can comment and vote and offer suggestions for how the idea could be realised. A cross-University panel evaluate the ideas and draw up a shortlist of ideas whose creators are invited to develop and pitch a project proposal. Funding is allocated to the most promising proposals.

Currently the scheme is looking for innovative ideas and creative students for digital projects running over the summer. The ‘Summer of Innovation’ initiative will be offering support to a number of projects in the form of funded internships, where students work with in-house developers to realise the projects.

The IT Innovation Challenges scheme is currently only open to members of the University, but it is possible that similar scheme will be inviting external collaborators too.

For more information about the scheme and examples of past and current projects, please visit the IT Innovation Challenges blog or contact innovation@it.ox.ac.uk


Images: Robbie Brock (CC BY-NC-SA)

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Lest We Forget – project ending

Lest We Forget is a University of Oxford initiative working with schools and community groups who want to run their own community collection events, digitising and sharing WW1 memorabilia and stories. It was launched in 2017 after a successful crowdfunding campaign. With additional funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the project was then extended to run until June 2019, jointly led by the University of Oxford and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

The project has initiated and supported a large number of collection events. The main focus has been to engage and support community groups and schools, allowing them to run their own events. The project has created documentation and guides, provided training and been available to offer advice and answer questions, but it is the local groups who have planned and run the events and collected the material. Digitised objects and stories have been uploaded to a shared platform, hosted by the University of Oxford. The project has brought together several hundreds of contributions, many featuring large number of digital images of letters, photos, objects and more. The archive can be accessed for free and the material can be viewed and used. All the collected material will also be deposited with Europeana, to form part of the large, international collection hosted there.

Some examples of the stories and objects you can find in the collection – all available online at http://lwf.it.ox.ac.uk/

To learn more about Lest We Forget, please follow the links listed here:

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Europeana Migration – new community collection

‘Migration’ is a topical issue with many dimensions in the present and the past. Throughout 2018, the European Year of Cultural Heritage, Europeana will be running a new community collection initiative around the theme of ‘migration’. The Europeana Migration collection will contain material contributed by the general public, either online or at a community collection event, as well as items from museums, libraries, galleries, and archives across Europe.

We’re looking for documentary evidence, material culture and personal stories reflecting migration movements in Europe over many centuries, as well as how these have affected the arts and sciences. (from the Europeana Migration website)

The collection will be featured on the Europeana Migration website. On the site, you can already find over 200,000 items from across Europe, giving a broad and diverse illustration of some of the many facets of migration. The site also features exhibitions and galleries, such as ‘Leaving Europe’ which explores European migration to the US in the 19th century, looking both at the homelands of the migrants and their lives in their new country. The ‘Famous Migrants’ gallery highlights a selection of well-known people from across Europe who were migrants or refugees and worked in the arts and sciences. All the material in the collection is free to explore, and many items can also be reused.

A family with 10 children are going to emigrate, CC BY-SA Gooi en Vecht Historisch

Anyone with a story, letter, photograph or other objects can add this to the collection through the website. Special events will also be held where people are invited to share their personal migration stories and material (for dates and venues, see the listing on the website)

Sharing your migration history can help us to tell a really big story – the story of Europe and the people who live here. Your story is part of Europe’s rich and shared history of migration, and now it can be recorded for the future. (from the Europeana Migration website)

Europeana Migration uses the Oxford Community Collection Model, creating an archive through a combination of online contributions and material collected at interactive events.

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Running a WW1 School Digital Collection Day

Lest We Forget‘ is a community collection project made possible through a successful crowdfunding campaign run in the summer of 2017. The project was launched in October 2017 and has since then been working with schools and community groups that wish to run public WW1 community collection events, called ‘Digital Collection Days’. This guest post brings together some experiences from the work with two schools: Cheney, a secondary and sixth form school in Oxford, and the independent Our Lady’s Abingdon (senior school).

A school ‘Digital Collection Day’ involves members of the community being invited to bring in their Great War stories, photographs, diaries, and letters to a school, where students and staff document and digitize these vital items so that they can be saved for future generations. The documented stories and objects are then uploaded to a free-to-use Oxford University database, where they will be freely accessible to all members of the public to discover, research, and learn. Taking part in a Digital Collection Day offers students a unique opportunity to interact directly with history, taking part in interviewing, recording, and digitizing important First World War objects and stories.

All you need is:
1. a room
2. a digital camera
3. a computer with internet 4. staff and student volunteers


One of the key success factors for these two events has been having a couple of motivated teachers in each school as the main organisers. They secured the venues, got the students to volunteer, arranged the training (see below), and also managed and oversaw logistics on the day.


As both of these schools were local to the Oxford-based Lest We Forget team, we were able to offer two sets of training. First, we visited the schools and ran a 45 minute session for the teachers. Essentially, this was a walk-through of the collection day itself (using the slide set at: https://lwf.web.ox.ac.uk/organise-digital-collection-day). We also visited each venue (a school library and theatre, respectively) and talked through the logistics and set-up.

The week before the event, we also ran a 30-45 minute training slot with the student volunteers. We took them through a shortened version of the slide set (also available at: https://lwf.web.ox.ac.uk/organise-digital-collection-day ) and did a walk-through of an WW1 item showing what would happen at the welcome desk, the interview, and the digitisation station respectively.


Example of room layout/set-up

In both schools, the Digital Collection Day was held in a large room booked out for this event (the library and the school hall/theatre respectively). The rooms were a good size, quite near an entrance that could be managed, and had space not just for the Collection Day activities but also to host other activities, such as the Frontline Living History exhibition (see below). A Digital Collection Day could also be run in other types of venues, for example a series of smaller rooms, as long as it is possible to smoothly move visitors and objects between different stations: welcome desk and waiting area, interview, and digitisation. Continue reading

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Lest We Forget

Students scanning documents

‘Lest We Forget’ (LWF) is a nationwide initiative, led by the University of Oxford, which aims to recognise and record those stories, objects and memories from World War One which survive – not in museum collections or history books – but in the hearts and homes of the very many families and individuals affected. The project uses the Oxford Community Collection Model to engage contributors both online and through various activities, such as digital collection events where visitors are welcome to bring their objects and stories to be digitially added to an online platform.  It follows on from similar previous projects, like the Great War Archive and Europeana 1914-1918, with a particular focus on collaboration with schools and local community groups.

Thanks to a successful crowdfunding campaign the project is able both to provide practical support to local communities interested in running their own Digital Collection Days, and to enable individuals to upload material directly via its online platform.

Student recording information from a visitor

A first collection event was held at the Cheney School in Oxford in November 2017. A group of students worked with the LWF team to record stories and digitise objects brought in by members of the local community. The event was a great success and showed that running a digital community collection event can be a rewarding activity for school students and staff alike, as well as ensure that valuable historic information and material is preserved and shared. The project team is now working with other schools and groups to plan and prepare future digital collection events and related activities.

The project has prepared a series of guides and documents that can be made freely available to prospective collection event organisers and anyone interested in bringing stories and experiences from the First World War to students, researchers and educators today.

To learn more about the project and find out about available support, please visit the project website https://lwf.web.ox.ac.uk or email ww1collections@it.ox.ac.uk. Alternatively, visit the facebook or twitter pages for latest news and instant messaging facilities.



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Crowdfunding – part 3

The ‘Lest We Forget’ crowdfunding campaign ran from June 5th and received a large number of contributions, from £1 and more, nearly £20,000 in all. The campaign also drew a lot of attention to the project, and offered new opportunities. That meant that even though we did not reach our original target for the collection, we will be able to run a version of the project. We are very grateful to the donors who let us receive their donations, despite not reaching the original target (the normal condition is that if a campaign does not reach its set goal, no pledges will be received). The graph gives a schematic overview of the result of the crowdfunding campaign, with the individual pledges plotted along the horizontal axis in the order they were received, and the growth of the collection indicated by the line. It is interesting to note that although there are some large contributions that stand out, the majority of the pledges are for fairly small amount. We are very pleased to see that so many individuals were interested in the project and happy to make a contribution.

Pledges received – each contribution (red bar) and overall collection (grey line)

The plan for the project now is to work with schools and community groups that want to run their own digital collection event. We will provide guidelines and training material and support the organisers in different ways (see https://lwf.web.ox.ac.uk/organise-digital-collection-day ). There will also be an online collection site where anyone can add their material to the collection (http://lwf.it.ox.ac.uk ). We are still looking for more opportunities, and are pursuing various avenues to be able to add to what we can offer. It is still possible to donate to the project, and we are very grateful for all contributions, large and small at :  http://ouinnov.co/2uKvq1q

To learn more about the project, and see how you can be involved, please visit the project webpage  https://lwf.web.ox.ac.uk/. To donate to the project and the work it is doing, please visit http://lwf.it.ox.ac.uk. Every contribution is very welcome. To contact the project team, please email us at ww1collections@it.ox.ac.uk. You can also follow us and keep in touch via our facebook or twitter pages.

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Crowdfunding – part 2

So our crowdfunding campaign has started and we can see the pledges trickling in. The idea is to generate funds to allow us to support community groups who want to digitise, preserve and share their WW1 heritage.

Considerable effort has gone in to the preparation of the campaign. That meant starting by looking at what kind of project we want to run, and scope it out carefully so that we know what level of funding it would require. The way the crowdfunding works is that we only get the funds if the campaign meets its target. Setting it too high may mean we get nothing. Still it is not possible to set too low a target – we have to make sure we can deliver the project. In our case, we are hoping to raise £80,000. However, we could deliver a smaller project for less, so we have set our minimum target at £40,000, with the hope of raising twice that. That means that if we get £40,000 or more, the project will go ahead. If we get £39,990, the campaign has failed and the money will be returned to the people who pledged it. That means nobody risks giving money to a project that cannot go ahead.

In addition to planning and costing the project, the bulk of the preparatory work for the campaign has been to prepare the communication activities. If nobody knows about the fundraising we won’t get any contributions, so a good communications plan is a major requirement. To do so has involved liaising with a range of people who can offer advice and guidance and creating a lot of lists; lists of people and groups that can help get the message out, lists of people and organisations that can support us in one way or another, lists of potential donors (corporate, charitable, individual), lists of channels and methods to use, and more. We have drawn up key messages to communicate, prepared information packs with illustrations, descriptions, and pictures, and sent out press releases. Some of this was disseminated before the campaign started, other is to be released throughout the campaign.

One of the videos created for the campaign (click image to see video)

Social media plays a big role in our campaign, as a means to reach large number of people quickly. As part of this we have tried something new to us: Thunderclap. Thunderclap calls itself a ‘crowdspeaking platform’ and is a means to let you release a message through a large number of social media accounts at the same time. You ask you friends and contacts to sign up, and on a set date and time the message is sent out through everyone’s accounts. It happens once and only once. Out thunderclap took place on June 6th at 9am. It was sent out through 113 accounts which together have an audience of approximately 250,000. Did you see it? If not, you can still be part of the campaign and help us save the memories from the First World War before they are gone forever. Just go to https://oxreach.hubbub.net/p/lestweforget/ and donate. If you are quick, your contribution will be matched by Europeana, which means that for every pound you donate, we get two. And we all can look forward to preserving more stories of the First World War. Lest We Forget.

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