26 Archives: a forever home in Falmouth

– Julia Webb-Harvey

Julia Webb-Harvey reflects on a very special event to launch a permanent collection of 26 publications at Falmouth University – the first such collection to be accepted to their library in nearly 10 years.

26 Characters Collection is now a permanent special collection in the library at Falmouth University, with illustrious neighbours that include novelist Patrick Gale, playwright Nick Darke, theatre director Bill Mitchell (founder of Wildworks theatre company) and the Camborne School of Mines. The archive offers much for the aspiring creative to forage and take inspiration from with over 40 ‘26’ projects spanning its 20 years since inception.

On 25 March 2022 we launched the collection in Falmouth, remarkably with only one change in the line-up due to Covid. It was humbling to see the archive books on display and realise the extent of the extraordinary work produced in what Sue Evans describes as ‘crowd writing.’ Falmouth University’s Tom Scott hosted the evening, with responses from John Simmons and Sue Evans. Then followed a series of presentations celebrating a wide range of 26 projects, including:

Rob Self-Pierson – 26 Treasures
Suzie Inman (absented due to Covid, understudied by Margaret Oscar) – 26 Memory Maps
Julia Webb-Harvey – 26 Trees
Alex Mawson-Harris – Bloomsbury
Sarah Farley – 26 Habitats

I had taken the responsibility for putting together the slide deck, a selection of images forwarded to me by the speakers, but they only gained their meaning that evening. The combination of individual’s stories, reflections, and the poems (the sestude or the centena) made it a true celebration – a very moving one. From my position at the lectern, nudging the slides on, I faced the audience. All looked captivated, some took notes. Afterwards, Viki Clitheroe, one of the librarians said she wished she’d brought her budding-writer daughter along.

It was a showcase of how 26 projects make a difference to individuals and causes. The speakers shared stories of finding inspiration, the confidence gained in finding their writing voice, and what participation meant to them. Together they wove a narrative that revealed the power of collaboration and ultimately the power of words – everything that is the sheer brilliance of 26.

The 26 legacy

The archive and launch event were so well received here at the university that I thought it would be fitting to end with something about what it means for the university to house the 26 archive, and for us all to imagine how our work might be used to inspire and influence the next generation of creatives.

Carole Green, archivist, and special collections manager, said, “Although we take new deposits to our Archive Collections on a fairly regular basis, it has been almost 10 years (2013) since we launched our last new Special Collection of published material. Since our recent move from the library to our new purpose-built space, there has been a noticeable increase in the use of these collections of rare and specialised publications in our reading room… the 26 Collection is proving the perfect partner with fresh, eclectic, creative and inspiring works from the 21st century.”

Dawn Lawrence, specialist Academic liaison Librarian, said, “I think this will be a great collection for English, Creative Writing, Journalism, Illustration and Graphic Design (possibly Advertising and Marketing Communications) in terms of looking at examples of what a collective of writers, authors, journalists, poets, designers and communication specialists can achieve together. It also demonstrates the relationship between 26 and external agencies which is a valuable example of how writers can collaborate with many diverse organisations and causes.”

It truly is a remarkable collection that will live on in Falmouth. Everyone ever involved in a  26 project is entitled to feel immensely proud of their contribution. 

– Julia Webb-Harvey
26 member and PhD candidate at Falmouth University

For Falmouth University’s entry about the collection, visit here

And you can watch a recording of the evening’s readings here.

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