Last summer, I had the uplifting experience of working with the papers of Ananna.
Ananna is a community organisation based in Manchester. Some may refer to it by its other name, the Manchester Bangladeshi Women’s Organisation.
Before exploring my archiving adventures, a little context is necessary to really appreciate what Ananna did and continues to do.
In 1986 a young boy, Ahmed Iqbal Ullah, was murdered in the playground of Burnage High School by a fellow pupil. This, unsurprisingly, was responded to with a roar of outrage and a surge community power in Manchester. In 1988 the MacDonald Inquiry was launched to investigate racism in schools in response to the murder. Ahmed’s mother established the Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Memorial School in their hometown in Bangladesh. The Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Race Relations Archive (as it was) came into being in Manchester in 1999. All these outcomes were driven on education, community spirit and making the future better.
(If you are not familiar with Ahmed’s story, have a look at the Legacy of Ahmed project by the Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Education Trust which collected the story of the boy and the legacy he left behind.)
An almost immediate response to the murder was the idea for Ananna in 1987. The shaking events of the murder led to a women-only and women-centric break-away from the Greater Manchester Bangladeshi Association (a predominantly male organisation).
Ananna was originally the Manchester Bangladeshi Women’s Project. It was founded to cater specifically to the women in the community. “Ananna is a unique organisation, providing services for women by women and for the benefit of the whole community.” Ananna means “unique woman” in Bengali. The whole story is a lot more detailed than I’m describing here. If you want to learn more, keep an eye on the Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Race Relations Research Centre’s catalogue for the archive’s availability.
Ananna is one of the most well respected community organisations in Manchester. It feeds into Manchester’s own legacy as a city of radicals, diversity and change. Not to mention empowered and empowering women.
In terms of the archive, there were the usual backbone archival standards such as minutes, correspondence, annual reports. These kinds of papers are crucial to understanding what an organisation did, who it was done by, why and when. They were surprisingly complete. It seemed not a single meeting’s evidence had gone astray.
What was great to see was all the different project reports included in the meeting papers. These reports showed in detail which initiatives Ananna focussed on and when. As an organisation by Bangladeshi women and for Bangladeshi women, this offers a trustworthy source of information on what exactly the needs of the community’s female populous were at the time. Considering how some of the service reports were present in meeting minutes for quite some time, it also gives us an idea of what the most important services were to the community.
Services covered needs for mothers and babies; some services were delivered specifically for young women; there were a lot of records about sexual, physical and mental health initiatives; some were aimed as supporting the elderly women in the community.
Working with material like this you really get a sense of understanding a part of a community, and your own – if even just a little, from a very specific view point and through a very specific prism.
The minutes and reports give the information about what was done etc, and the wonderfully colourful and zine-like posters and leaflets advertising the services offer a sense of what the centre was like back then. The posters speak of community effort and kindness, from the drawings in the designs to the colourful papers and cut-and-paste aesthetic.
As well as being an archive of women, a comparatively rare and wonderful thing, Ananna’s archive is a useful example of why it is so important for community organisations to take care of their archives. They will be the only thing that will tell their story through history and may be the only evidence that they ever existed decades or centuries from now. Although Ananna is still going strong, I think that having their archive already cared for shows great forethought. It means that they will be remembered and celebrated long after any of us today are alive. It means that they will continue to educate, inspire and empower long after the women who set up the organisation are gone.
If you are a part of an organisation that is passionate about its purpose and its people, have a think about your records. Where are they? Where are the records that will form the archive? Which records will tell your story? Find them and keep them safe.