THE WANDSWORTH BOROUGH COLLECTION IS MOVING ON

After an inspiring five years, Battersea Arts Centre will be handing over custodianship of the Wandsworth Borough Collection to Wandsworth Borough Council.

The diverse assortment of objects represent the lives led by the people of Wandsworth through the ages. Items range from an original newspaper printing press from the Wandsworth Borough News, an 18th century papier-mâché doll from a local family, transcripts of political debates from the English Civil War that discussed a radical new constitution for Britain, and Neolithic tools from the local area.

When the Wandsworth Museum closed to the public in 2014, Battersea Arts Centre worked with the Museum’s dedicated staff and trustees to find a creative solution. Together, with the support of Wandsworth Borough Council, the Friends of Wandsworth Museum and the Hintze Family Charitable Trust, we founded the BAC Moving Museum. The project would care for and share the collection of historical objects, encouraging emotional connections between people, their heritage and our shared future.

BAC’s producers programmed events, talks, performances and even whole seasons of new work inspired by items in the collection – starting with the production of London Stories: Made by Migrants. A hugely popular production which brought the idea of storytelling through personal items to life through the autobiographical, moving and intimate stories told by migrants living in London today. 2018’s Return to Elm House was a heart-warming tale inviting families to explore the delightful nooks and crannies of the building, encouraging children to explore their curiosity. It uncovered the story of Wandsworth’s Jeanie Nassau Senior, a social pioneer and Britain’s first female civil servant who fought to become the visionary founder of modern foster care.

We collaborated with libraries, schools and community groups, running workshops to encourage everyone to explore their heritage and devising new, creative ways to learn. We also worked with museums and heritage organisations across the country to further the creative development of their programmes.

Our renewed focus on heritage led to the creation of self-led adventure trails, for individuals and school groups to explore a variety of local historical figures such as John Archer, London’s first Black Mayor, suffragist Charlotte Despard, and innovative aviator Hilda Hewlett, the first British woman to earn a pilot’s licence. Through funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, thirteen permanent interactive art installations were also created, to be discovered throughout the building. Designed by artists in collaboration with the local community, these will continue to act as a reminder of our shared values, such as courage, hope and creativity.

Since March 2020, when venues have been largely closed to the public, we have been refining Battersea Arts Centre’s purpose in order to better support our community and the artists we collaborate with. Along with many arts organisations, we lost 50% of our annual income due to the pandemic, and this period has had a significant impact on our available resources, including our ability to successfully fundraise for the Wandsworth Borough Collection.

The stories and history of the local area will continue to influence our programming, and our shared history remains an important piece of everything we do at Battersea Arts Centre.

The creation of the BAC Moving Museum and the infinite potential of the collection has inspired us to consider more ways we can work in a co-created way.

Under the care of Wandsworth Borough Council, the Wandsworth Borough Collection will continue to protect and promote the borough’s rich social and political history. Working in partnership with local libraries and historical societies, the Council will explore how local communities can engage with the collection in their everyday lives.