Collections

Types of records

There are currently between 300,000 and 350,000 charities in England and Wales. The variety of records to be found in the archive collections of charity and voluntary bodies are as diverse as the organisations themselves.

One thing these collections have in common is the structure of administrative records. Annual reports and accounts will give an accessible overview of the work of the charity, as will
published material such as magazines or journals. If you are looking to research the history of charitable organisations you will find two important series of records: not just the minutes of the body responsible for the day to day running of the organisation, but also those of the
unpaid board of trustees which by law regulates the activity of the charity.

There is also likely to be a structure of committee records which will provide information about the various areas of the organisation’s work, such as fundraising, and those related to the
delivery of the charitable purpose in question. For larger charities, these committees will often give information about the organisation’s work at a regional level.

Official records may be supplemented by a variety of collected personal papers. These might
include the letters and diaries of former employees or volunteers which provide a valuable
personal view of the work involved.

Uses

The records of charitable and voluntary organisations can be of value for a very wide range of research:

  • Family history – organisations may have records of their employees, volunteers or
    beneficiaries;
  • The history of philanthropy and the provision of aid;
  • Various angles of social history;
  • Military history, where organisations have provided assistance during wartime;
  • Medical history, where organisations have provided medical assistance.

Users include students at undergraduate and postgraduate level, academics and those
researching for personal interest.

Where to find the records of charity and voluntary organisations

Larger organisations may have a dedicated museum or archive service which provides access to the records in their care. Please consult Discovery for contact details. Note that these services will often be staffed by a small team, and as such there may be a delay in answering your
enquiry and opening hours for visitors may be limited. There will often also be limited user
services on site (e.g. research space, refreshments). You may be encouraged to give a donation to the charity in return for access to their records, and if you do so this may help to ensure the continued access to these records.

The records of small charities will often be held in the relevant country record office or with the organisation itself.

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