Leonard Cheshire Archives and the Resonate Podcast

Archivist and staff member with the sound collection in the archive stacks.

Archivist Stephanie Nield discusses the exciting and pioneering podcast project, which brings to life the archive and sound collections of Leonard Cheshire Archives.

A Charity with 74 years of history

Leonard Cheshire is a UK based charity with a lot of history, meaning a lot of stories to tell from the Archive. Before I talk about the Resonate Podcast, it’s worth explaining just how much material we have to work with, and why.

The story starts in 1948 with our founder, Group Captain Lord Leonard Cheshire VC OM. Leonard was a 30-year-old retired RAF Group Captain, famous for being awarded the Victoria Cross for his role in Bomber Command during the Second World War. He struggled to re-adjust to peacetime, and through a series of events began to inspire communities to build homes and provide facilities for local disabled people. This idea spread from the UK first to India and then all over the world.

The Archive and Sound collection

Leonard Cheshire set up an archive to document the history of his charity in the 1980s, in Netherseal, South Derbyshire. Today, one Archivist and a small team of volunteers work to collect the history of Leonard Cheshire – both the charity and the man who founded it. We also gather records about Leonard Cheshire’s wife Lady Sue Ryder and their joint work under the charity Ryder-Cheshire, which now operates in Australia.

The Leonard Cheshire collection includes sound, film, and photography, as well as the personal collections of the founder and his work.

The sound collections in our care are based on the Cheshire Sound Library set up at Le Court Cheshire Home in 1973 by the founder and managed by two residents (and radio journalists) Peter Courchee and Nigel Mackenzie. This library was made up of recordings of the speeches of Leonard Cheshire and Sue Ryder, including Leonard Cheshire’s speeches on his wartime career.

Furthermore, Leonard Cheshire was very interested in film – he was friends with Hollywood film director David Lean – and set up the Ryder-Cheshire film unit to produce films about his work. The soundtracks of these films often made their way to the Sound library. So too did episodes of the Cheshire Voice – a sound magazine created by and for residents of Leonard Cheshire’s care homes.

There have since been two oral history programmes compiled at the Archive: one gathered in the 1990s after Leonard Cheshire’s death, and another put together in the late 2010s as part of a National Lottery funded programme, ‘Rewind’, opening up our archives to residents living in Leonard Cheshire care homes in the South-East of England.

The Resonate Project

The importance of the sound and film collection, and the urgency to preserve and digitise the Sound Library resulted in a new project.

The Resonate Project, thanks to the National Lottery Heritage Fund and the Foyle Foundation, involved the digitisation of 256 sound recordings. Topics covered included the impact of the Second World War, the disability movement and the development of disability charities both in the UK and globally.

The project helped reduce the possibility of the recordings deteriorating and being lost forever.

‘If the subject were just Leonard Cheshire’s wartime experiences then it would be interesting enough, but the longer story of seven decades of support for disabled people and all this has entailed is remarkable.’

Colin Hyde, from East Midlands Oral History Archive

The Podcast

Resonate logo

During the ‘Resonate’ project, we decided to start a podcast about the Leonard Cheshire Archives. We knew we would have a lot of digitised recordings, and we wanted to have a different way for our audience to discover them rather than searching on our website. Our podcast was only going to run for three episodes, but it became apparent there were many more stories to tell, and we decided to carry on after the project ended.

So far there are 6 episodes; topics range from more ‘archival’ themes such as project updates to interesting stories from our archive about our founder and his work. Most recently I interviewed someone from Ryder-Cheshire Australia to talk about his work in India!

Stephanie Nield, Leonard Cheshire Archivist

The podcast is created by recording and editing content using the free software Audacity and VLC media player. We record it using our headsets, but you can also get lapel microphones, which give a much clearer sound, relatively cheaply. We record interviews using Teams and extract the soundtrack from the film using VLC media player, before editing the recording in Audacity. We have been experimenting with captions and editing film in the MS app Stream, which has worked quite well, especially for putting the video version of podcast episodes on our intranet.

We decided to host the podcast on YouTube. We were determined to make the podcast as accessible as possible, which is not achievable on most podcast apps. For each episode on YouTube, we create a short, captioned film. We kept the podcast recording short as well – the way I approach it is that it should be as long as a tea break, so around 15 minutes.

Leonard Cheshire Archive Centre entrance

As part of the process, we learned that the key to getting an audience for your podcast is distribution. We discovered the app Anchor, which is free and will distribute your podcast to different listening apps automatically. If you want to start raising money using your podcast, the Anchor app will allow you to set this up.

To get around not being able to include a transcript on Anchor, we created a page on our heritage website for the podcast, where there are links to YouTube, Anchor and the transcript.

The analytics on these apps are really useful. We know from Anchor that our podcast has been played 434 times since it began in July 2020. On YouTube, it has been viewed 758 times in total. Most of our listeners are female and aged 23-44, which has been a pleasant surprise as we thought it might only be of interest to older generations who knew about our founder during WWII. We got a five-star review on iTunes too, which I was thrilled about!

I always ask listeners if they have any burning questions about our history – so if you do have a question then please let me know as it might make a good podcast topic!

Contact

Follow us on twitter @archiveslc where new podcast episodes and content are regularly updated or see our website www.rewind.leonardcheshire.org.

You can find out more about the work of Leonard Cheshire at www.leonardcheshire.org.