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Volunteers Week: Rachel's Story

05 June 2017

Did you that the Coventry Archive and Research Centre, located in the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum, houses the Rootes Archives - a transport collection of national importance? 

Read volunteer Rachel's story to discover more about this exciting project...


"Hi! My name is Rachel Owen and I’ve been volunteering in the Archives (located at the Herbert) since 2015. I started volunteering to get some experience in a cultural venue during my gap year (which has since turned into a gap three years) whilst working out what I wanted to do for a career. I initially started doing some odd jobs in Conservation, and it was through this team that I found out about the Rootes project.

What’s the Rootes project? I hear you cry. Well, the Rootes Group was one of the powerhouses of British car making in the mid-20th Century, made up of a number of brands including Humber, Singer and Hillman. Over the years that this company worked they amassed a huge collection of photographic and administrative material that is housed at the Herbert. The aim of the project is to catalogue and digitise this material so that it can be made more accessible to the public.

I joined the team working in the basement of the History Centre that was sorting and cataloguing the photographic prints. I can’t even begin to estimate how many there were of these – hundreds, if not thousands (many of which were duplicates). I got a very interesting insight into the marketing and promotional work of the motor industry from the 30s to the 70s, and saw a lot of rally photographs.




I had to pause my voluntary work for a while as I completed a six-month internship in Birmingham, but when I got back there was still plenty to do! Within a few weeks the last box of photographs was sorted and then I was at a bit of a loss – what would I do with my Wednesdays now that this mammoth task was done?

My question was answered in the form of the Rootes press cuttings collection, which I have been working on for the past few months. The aim was to record an overview of the articles on offer in this collection in a spreadsheet so that members of the public can easily locate search terms, rather than searching through ten really large volumes of news that may only be vaguely relevant.

This, again, was an enormous task but one that I’ve found immensely enjoyable. Whilst much of the news was international focussed, with marketing campaigns for new cars, or results from far off rallies (I can now rattle off more than my fair share of rally drivers) it was fabulous to see local news interspersed with these huge stories – such as weddings, and even a visit from the King to Coventry’s factories. I finished this task at the end of April and it was such an amazing feeling to get this aspect of the project completed.

They are not done with me yet! More aspects of the Rootes project are being organised and in the meantime I’m making myself useful in the Archives. I’m so grateful to the Herbert and the team at the Coventry Archives and Research Centre for giving me to opportunity to work alongside them on this amazing heritage project. It’s been an amazing experience and I’ve now picked up a lot of specialist knowledge. Let’s put it this way, I’m looking forward to the day British Cars of the 20th Century comes up on Pointless!"


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