Surrey History Centre

Surrey History Centre in Woking had an exciting and varied programme of activity for LGBT+ History Month and you can see the full list for this year on our Exploring Surrey’s Past website newsflash page https://www.exploringsurreyspast.org.uk/lgbt-hm-2022/. This website hosts a vast resource for Surrey’s LGBTQ+ community including biographies, research guides, case studies and community feedback. Di Stiff, our Collections Development Archivist, worked on 3 website articles about Surrey LGBTQ+ icons Roberta Cowell, Edward Carpenter and Ethel Smyth with Surrey Live and did a Facebook Live session with them giving a virtual tour of the LGBTQ+ treasures and our History Month foyer display -you can watch it at https://fb.watch/bn2GCN35r5/.

We also did 2 BBC Radio Surrey interviews with the ‘Out with Kathy Caton’ LGBTQ+ show about making our LGBTQ+ archives visible and the importance of developing the collections. Archivist, Isabel Sullivan, created a fascinating new biography page about the life and work of Surrey author Netta Syrett, who wrote stories with positive lesbian heroines, and content for Aubrey Beardsley’s infamous ‘Yellow Book’. The regular Marvel of the Month blog on our Surrey History Centre website was taken over for February and discussed the challenges of tracing Transgender history in our archive collections. Our Harry Daley and Alan Turing podcast videos which we created during lockdown were selected to be part of the national LGBT+ History Month’s ‘Outing the Past Festival’ programme. Our librarian, Carole Garrard, created a fine and varied selection of LGBTQ+ library books for visitors in our public searchroom.

However, our main event was ‘What’s Your LGBT+ Story?’, an online Zoom event held jointly with Surrey Libraries to celebrate both LGBT+ History Month and National Storytelling Week, which was aimed at increasing testimonies of the LGBTQ+ lived experience in our archive collections (2nd February 2022). Attendees from Surrey shared their LGBT+ stories in a safe and friendly space and their stories were recorded for the archives at Surrey History Centre. We also opened the floor to non-Surrey contributions and heard truly moving stories from across the world. The importance of events like this in raising awareness and visibility was clear from the overwhelmingly positive comments, reflecting both how the evening was so much larger than we had imagined.

There was also a clear call for further LGBTQ+ community engagement. Words from those who attended describing the event included: Powerful, Emotional, Authentic, Safe, Inspiring, Supportive, Validating and connecting, Refreshing and Necessary. We’re really thrilled that this event fulfilled a need to capture the LGBTQ+ lived experience, preserved important local stories for posterity, and met a real demand for people to share their feelings about their own sexuality. We’re looking forward to developing this further!