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Kingston at Leisure is a community-based project (funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund) centring on the importance of local clubs and societies in fostering community development in the past. It was conceived as a result of discussions between colleagues from the Kingston Museum and Heritage Service and The Centre for Local History Studies (now The Centre for the Historical Record) at Kingston University. The Project focuses on ordinary people, how they chose to spend their leisure time and the records they have kept in the process.
Kingston already has a rich historical heritage deserving preservation, but aspects of that heritage are in danger of being lost. From the mid-nineteenth century onwards, Kingston evolved from a strategic, largely working-class market town into a suburban Royal Borough (including the predominantly middle-class neighbourhoods of Surbiton and New Malden) supported by an abundance of job, leisure and cultural activities. As many members of the local community found themselves with more money and leisure time available, numerous clubs, societies and associations were established to provide all sectors of the local community with alternatives to work and home. These were established with committees, club rules, subscriptions, membership lists, programmes of activities etc. Some lasted only a short while but others are still active today and have a distinguished history - and a significant archive of past activities. A few clubs and groups, it is true, have deposited their records with the Museum and Heritage Service. But many others have not, and there is always the danger that records can be lost or destroyed. Club officials change but is there a handing over of records? Are such records sitting in an attic or elsewhere, gradually to be forgotten and eventually thrown away? These sources are just as important to Kingston's heritage as the more official documentation and need to be preserved.
This project focuses on the records of local clubs, societies and similar institutions which are, too often, at risk and lost to the local community because their potential value as a valuable historical archive has not been appreciated. Most records currently deposited with local record offices were collected as a result of central or local government initiatives and record the more 'official' side of community life. This project, however, is concerned with other aspects of life beyond official recognition by collecting, preserving and making accessible records which are not normally deposited. These cover a broad spectrum of leisure activities including sport, photography, theatre, singing, cycling, rambling, horticulture/gardening etc with the emphasis being on the years from the mid-nineteenth century to the present day. Archives covering these activities are just as important to Kingston's heritage as the more official documentation and need to be preserved before they are lost to future generations.
If made available such local records could greatly enrich our understanding of how Kingston's local community actually operated, what it meant to be part of this particular 'local community', the extent to which community life varied between working-class and middle-class areas, and how the experience of Kingston differed from that of other localities. Additionally, suburban areas are often criticised for 'lacking a sense of community' and the existence (or otherwise) of local clubs and societies and the ways in which they interacted with the broader community could be used as a means of testing this criticism.
During the course of the project, Nicola Tettey (the Project Leader) worked with Dr Chris French from the Centre for the Historical Record, Jill Lamb, the Borough Archivist, and three very dedicated volunteers. The aims of the project were widely publicised and as a result, nearly 40 local clubs and societies have so far deposited their records with the borough archives at the North Kingston Local History Room.
These clubs and societies include Malden Wanderers Cricket Club, Surbiton Horticultural Society, Kingston Women's Group, Tiffin Netball Club, Kingston Workmen's Club and Institute, Kingston Choral Society and many, many more. Records deposited include club minute books, accounts, programmes of activities, photographs, letters, newspaper cuttings, newsletters and memorabilia. A number of workshops and presentations have been given as the project progressed and a teachers' education resource pack for school pupils studying history at Key Stages 3 and 4 is now available.
A major exhibition focusing on the materials deposited by clubs and societies was held at Kingston Museum between 9 April and 28 May 2011 and resulted in much highly positive feedback. The exhibits were accompanied by a series of text panels which provide the historical and local context for the project, establish its community and academic aims, and indicate that that the importance of depositing the archives of local clubs and societies is an ongoing process.
Although the official duration of this project ended in the summer of 2011, its aims are on-going.