Resources: Starting a Local History Group

A: Objective

Why do you want a local history group?

There are lots of possible answers, most of which are valid.  However it is a good idea to have an answer to this question, even if with time it changes.

You may want to study the whole history of your community.

For example
     You live in a village or a part of a town and you want to know what happened there in the past.
     You may belong to a minority group and want to know how your particular ancestors came to the area where you now live.

You may want to examine one particular aspect or time period relating to your community.

     For example
     You might belong to a church or club and want to know about its past.
     Perhaps there was once an important factory in the area, now gone, but you want to know more about it and the people who worked there.
     There may be some very interesting buildings in your area and you want to know who built them and why.

Or You may have come across an interesting set of documents and want to study them.

These are just a few examples of what leads you to want a local history society.  If you know roughly what you want to do, it will help you find others who are similarly interested.

By the way, have you checked that no other society is covering the ground that you are interested in?


B: Establishing and maintaining the society

1. Committee

To be effective, you need others to join with you to help run the society.  If you can get even two or three others at the start, it will mean that the load is shared and will make the new Society feel like a club that others can join.  Subsequently, you may get more who will join the committee and you may lose some of your first helpers.

You will need people, who may or may not have formal titles, to chair meetings, arrange publicity, look after funds, book halls for meetings, keep membership or contact records and do anything else the Society wants done.

The Committee should meet from time to time to run the Society, but meetings can be as formal or informal as suits the members.  It is sensible to keep records of what is decided and who is going to do what.  If you have a very small group, you may not have a separate committee, but the jobs still need doing and you don’t want to take up all your meetings with business, no matter how informal.

2. First meeting

You want to draw in other people so you will need to hold a meeting.  You will need to advertise it and invite people along. (See below for suggestions).  Again the purpose of your society will influence whether you put out public notices widely, or whether you target only those who you know are likely to be interested in your objectives.

Either way, you will need to tell people about the plans for the new Society.  To encourage them, have a speaker (which can be yourself) who can tell them something about the subjects you are going to study and perhaps give some idea of where your researches will take you next.

You will need to decide whether to hire a room somewhere or meet in a private house.  A private house is the cheaper option, but may deter the mildly curious.  If you hire a hall, it will have to be paid for, unless you have influence with its owners.  Decide also whether you will serve tea, coffee, biscuits or whatever and organise someone to do it.  People will pay a small amount for refreshments which covers their costs.

At your first meeting, you may want to put on a small exhibition of pictures relating to your theme.  Pictures are best.  If you use text, don’t have too much and use a large font that is easy to read.  Remember that most local historians are 50+ and some have poor eyesight.

Although you may get one or two members who will join in active research, welcome the rest.  Their subscriptions will keep the Society going and they will make up the numbers at public meetings.  Above all, never complain to those who have turned up that they are too few, too indolent or not young enough, however much you may feel it.  You want to show enthusiasm and be pleased that you are achieving more than was happening before you made your efforts.

At the end of the meeting, you may have one or two more people who will join the committee so be prepared to arrange a date and place.  There is also a case for fixing a date and subject for your second public meeting so that you establish a momentum.

3. Publicity

To get an audience, you need to tell people about your events.

To advertise a meeting make sure you include where, when – date and time, title, name of speaker if there is one, any cost to the audience, refreshments if they will be served, and who to contact for further information.

You have to think about publicity for the first meeting and continuing publicity.  This is where balancing cost against coverage is difficult.  The methods you need to consider are word of mouth, local paper, local radio, leaflets and posters.  Later you will need to contact your members regularly to keep them up to date.

You may find that you have someone who will look after the publicity – writing news items and designing leaflets or posters, or you may end up sharing the work.

Personal contact

If you have an enthusiastic membership, they will bring friends along and this is always a good way to recruit new members.  Make sure they are welcomed and not made to feel that they are on the edge of a clique.


If you can write stories about the history you are doing, local papers will often print them.  They will often allow you to slip in a mention of when your next meeting will be.  Write up something you know about the history your group is studying.  You may find that the professional journalists will re-write it: if they do see how their style differs from yours and adapt accordingly.  The formation of your group is a news story in its own right, so make sure that you get that to the editor.  You might want to invite people to the first meeting by means of a Letter to the Editor.  If you can add a relevant photo that adds to your publicity – but don’t use one in copyright.  Also find out what format the paper wants.  They can usually handle jpg or tif format, but it might be courteous to check, and it gives you an excuse to tell reporter or editor what you are doing.  Incidentally think of both local papers that people buy and the free ones that come through your door.

You can place advertisements in local papers, but this can be expensive.

Radio or Television

It is usually harder to get publicity on local radio, although your station may have a diary feature in which they will give details of forthcoming events.  You need to find out how much notice they need and make sure you include all the necessary details.

Even local TV will only be interested when you have a very special story, and not always then.


If your proposed society covers a smallish potential number of people, it might be worth preparing a leaflet and giving it out, for example to a church congregation or through letter boxes of a small community.  Make sure it includes all the essential information listed above.  You will want it to look attractive, but don’t get carried away by making it too busy.  People want to see messages quickly and clearly.


Although it is tempting to have big posters, they are almost impossible to get displayed without considerable cost.  The idea of hanging a banner across the High Street is tempting but rarely justified for a local history society.  Most shops or other places with notice boards will take A4 size, but few will take bigger ones, so don’t waste your money.  Again design it the best you can, but don’t worry if it does not look professional.  Just make sure the essential information can be read easily.

4. Membership

You will need to decide whether you will have a membership.  Most societies have members but some simply call meetings and get in touch through local parish newsletters.  The latter works better in the country but mostly the arrangement tends to collapse after a while.

If you have members, you have a group who are likely to attend your events, some of whom will help run the events, and all will pay subscriptions.  You will need to keep a list of the members with their addresses.  Many societies contact their members by email primarily, but don’t overlook those who do not use email.  You will need one of your committee to take on the job of membership records.

5. Keeping in touch – newsletter, calendar card, website, posters etc.

You will want to keep in touch with your members.  This may consist of emails, but as you get to know more about your subject, you may want to produce a newsletter so that you can share information.  Different societies adopt different strategies, but what you will want to tell your members includes details of forthcoming events, chatty short items of interest, and longer articles.

Some societies produce a newsletter that incorporates all three into one publication.  Others produce a separate programme card and then publish articles separately.  You may even decide to publish short and long articles separately.

However this is something that you can allow to evolve, but almost from the start you will want to give members details of forthcoming events, and snippets of interest will encourage them to read on.  Some people like to encourage everyone to receive newsletters by email.  This is much cheaper, but many newsletters received in this format are not read very conscientiously and some organisations wrap them up in such a way that they are difficult for the non-computer literate to open and read, so be careful.  If you print your communications, make sure that copies go to the local paper, the local library, the British Association for Local History and possibly the County Record Office.

6. Naming your society

Your new society will need a name.  Have some ideas available for the inaugural meeting, but don’t spend too much time on the task.  It is probably better to have an informative name, such as X Local History Society although it can be tempting to adopt a more obscure name.  Eventually the community will get used to an obscure name, but it can act as a barrier to membership because people don’t know what you are about.

7. Constitution

Be realistic about your constitution.  You need a set of rules about how you want to run your society.  You don’t need an elaborate set of rules that will tie you in knots at every turn.  Think out how you want your society to work and write a set of guidance notes to that end.

For example you may have someone wanting to put in clauses about the length of time officers can hold office, or xxx stating that there must be a minimum number of people present at meetings.  If you can achieve these objectives, all well and good, but if you don’t you will be in trouble. Either it will be necessary to ignore your constitution as you will not be able to set it aside because the minimum number of people needed to make changes are not present, or you will not be able to hold meetings.  Similarly if you have a good treasurer you don’t want to set him or her aside because three years have passed.

8. Join BALH for help, insurance and ideas

Most local history societies are independent bodies.  They may talk to neighbouring societies, but they are autonomous.  That does not mean that you cannot get ideas from other people.

If you join the British Association for Local History, you can take advantage of their insurance arrangements.  You will also get copies of The Local Historian, Local History News and the E-newsletter which are full of news and ideas of relevance for anyone trying to run a local history society.

It is a good idea to get to know the people who run neighbouring societies.  If nothing more, it is worth exchanging programme cards with them because they may have ideas for speakers that suit you and vice versa.  Similarly if there is a county history society, it may be worth joining it because it gives you a further chance to see what others are doing, and again you may come across some excellent speakers who will come to your society.


C. Finance

It will be necessary to keep an account of money in and out of the society, and once a year to present a summary of the society’s money and how it was managed.

1. Likely outgoings

The main activities that will cost you money are likely to be the cost of holding meetings and the cost of keeping members in touch.

Meeting costs include hire of hall, cost of speaker, publicity and refreshments if you provide them. Some societies have their own projector which can be used with a computer for PowerPoint or other picture shows.  Some speakers bring their own equipment, but some will need yours.  In some halls, you may feel a need for your own audio system, but again that is not essential in the early days.

The cost of keeping members in touch may include the cost of printing newsletters etc, and the cost of posting these.

You may also incur costs in collecting subscriptions.

If your society is planning to undertake research, that may incur costs.  For example you have to decide whether you will subsidise the travel costs of those undertaking research. In the early days, members will usually use their own computers but the day may come when to have a society one is a good idea.  Active research often involves cost of copying material, which may be photocopying or may be digital and the material arrive on a CD.  Either way it will need to be paid for.

For example if you wanted to work on the Tithe Map you might want to buy a CD containing both the map and the Award which describes each field.  The tithe award maps were large scale maps produced in the latter 1830s or early 1840s and make an excellent basis on which to base any geographical work of your parish.

2. Membership subscriptions

In order to set sensible subscription levels, you need to estimate what your costs are likely to be, and how you intend to fund them.  In particular you will need to decide whether subscriptions will cover the costs of meetings, or whether they will cover the cost of keeping the society together and admission to meetings will be charged in addition.

You can have variable rates of subscriptions, but most of your members are likely to be retired, so having a discount for them creates a surcharge for those of working age and is a complication for whoever is keeping the books.  You may however want to offer a joint or family subscription for people living in the same household and only receiving one newsletter etc.

You may also attract some corporate members – e.g. schools etc.  You may want to charge them a family rate, although if you are going to give them more than a family will get, you may want to charge them more.  You will then have to decide how many people can take advantage of a corporate membership.

3. Visitor contributions at meetings

If your members attend meetings for free, what will you do about visitors?  The usual is to ask them for a donation.  (Do it this way and then you avoid potential tax implications.)  If your members pay at the door, visitors should be asked for a higher amount or there is no benefit in membership.

4. Other sources of money

You may raise money in other ways.  For example if you publish any of your research you may sell it, and you need to set a price high enough to cover your costs but not so high that people think twice before buying.  If you want shops to sell your publications, you need to set a wholesale price high enough to cover your costs but allow them to make a profit too.  The chain stores can be difficult to deal with: they often ask for 40% or more discount and then take three months to pay their bills.  However they may offer a good outlet, so you have to balance one against the other.

If you have a special project on, you may find your members will make donations towards it.  You may decide to have an all- day conference for which you charge everyone who attends and well managed these can bring in money.  Similarly if you hold an exhibition, you can either charge people admission (which will deter some) or ask for donations towards costs.

Sales of work, and the like may bring in money if well run, but organising them does not greatly appeal to local historians so is probably best avoided.  Some local history societies run occasional social events that they charge for and these may do more than cover the costs.  Generally you are best relying on subscriptions to run the society.

Some societies provide speakers to other local societies who expect to pay for their entertainment.  You may find that you have some talented speakers who will fulfil this role and will donate their fees to your society.  If this is the arrangement, remember you may have to buy a projector for their use, but you may need one for your own meetings anyway.


D. Activities

1. Further meetings – when and where

At the first meeting, you need to have suggestions about what is going to happen next.

You will need to decide whether to have a regular meeting slot, which means that some people will be permanently excluded because of prior commitments, or you may fix meetings as and when it seems convenient, which means that, unless you give plenty of warning, people will not have kept the date free for your event.  Discuss this with your members and see what the balance of opinion is.

You need to decide where to meet.  Some societies are small enough to meet in private houses.  Others always use the same hall, while others move around according to how many they expect to turn up.  Each arrangement has its own advantages or drawbacks.  Do what suits you and be ready to change the pattern if your membership numbers justify it.

2. Finding speakers

The sky is the limit where speaker costs are concerned.  If you go for nationally known names, you could pay hundreds of pounds.  Very few history events are organised on that basis.

Most societies use a mixture of local speakers, including their own members if suitable.  Some speakers will send you advertisements of their topics, but mostly you will find them because you or one of your members has heard them elsewhere and think they are suitable.

You will need to decide the level at which you are going to pitch your talks.  Do you want entertainers, who may cover ghosts and be after-dinner speakers, or do you want historians who will talk history, which many can do very entertainingly?  When members suggest speakers, you need to check whether they are suitable for your society as well as being entertaining.

Amongst the sources of good speakers are local government employees.  Both your local record office and your local museum may have speakers who they will send to local society meetings, although charges may be incurred.  They may offer other services.  For example Hampshire Record Office will send DVDs of old films, the equipment on which to play them and a speaker to introduce them.

When booking a speaker, you need confirmation that they and you have the same date and subject.  Most societies send a form to potential speakers, usually with two pages, one to be sent back to the organiser and one to be retained by the speaker.  On this form you can provide space for the speaker to write a little about him or herself and a few lines about the subject.  This gives the chairman something to say when introducing the evening, and may be useful in publicity.

It is a courtesy to have a member of your committee to look after the speaker at the meeting.  They may need help with equipment or setting up, or simply want a glass of water or to know where the toilet is.  Afterwards they may need a hand carrying equipment back to their car.

3. Events other than regular meetings

Apart from a programme of regular meetings, you may decide to have a special event.  These can be very rewarding, but always need more work than the inexperienced expect.  You might decide to have an outing, put on an exhibition or run a conference for example.


Outings can be as modest or elaborate as you please.  At the gentle end of planning, you may meet up in the town and walk round places of interest.  You need a leader with a clear voice who remembers to face the audience not the buildings, and you need to set a time when traffic will not be too noisy but the streets are still light.

If you go further afield, depending on your community, you may be able to use public transport or cars to get to the meeting place.  You will need to be sure there is somewhere to park if you are relying on cars.  For further afield, you can consider hiring a coach, but they have to be paid even if your take-up is small.


Putting on an exhibition is an excellent way of showing other people the history of their area.  You will need to hire a hall and fix a date.  You will need to decide on whether to charge admission or rely on donations and you will need to decide whether to provide refreshments for which people pay.  Whichever you do, you need someone at the door to meet-and-greet and to record the number who attend.  Greet but don’t be so effusive that you scare the casually interested away.

In preparing the exhibition, you will need to decide on whether to show artefacts or whether it will primarily be pictures.  If you have artefacts, you need to be able to put them into a secure environment so that they cannot be stolen.

If you have borrowed items from other people, you need to have details of their names and addresses so they can be returned promptly and accurately, preferably with a letter of thanks.

If you are showing pictures, you have the choice of exhibiting originals, or making good copies of them and using the copies.  Since mounting originals without damaging them can be tricky, there is a lot to be said for exhibiting copies, although the copying adds to the initial workload.  Photos and artefacts need captions, but as said earlier, use a good-sized font (16 pt is pretty comfortable) and generally black on white is easiest to read.  If you exhibit copies of letters or other written material, make sure there is a copy of it in a modern font.  You want to make your exhibition accessible, not elitist.

Although you need captions, don’t have too many words.  An exhibition is a place for headlines, not detailed exposition.

How are you going to mount your pictures?  These may vary, according to your budget and confidence, from A4 sheets run off on your home computer at one end to a laid out display on boards arranged by your local printer at the other.  There are intermediate stages, and your local printer will be able to advise.

You then have to set up your material.  Will the hall allow you to stick things to their walls or can you borrow display boards and if so will you need to use Velcro to stick your material to them, or can you get by with mapping pins? 

At the expensive end of the spectrum, it is possible to mount all material on plasticised boards and stick these to the walls with 3M stickers that would subsequently come off the wall without damaging the surface. This is very professional, but few societies can afford that quality.

If you can afford to have your material printed onto to large sheets of paper (A1 or A0) you get the layout sorted out before the day and simply have to put up the sheets.  (There are various computer programmes that allow layouts and are worth someone learning how to use.  Microsoft Publisher is one such and many artists prefer Apple software.)

If you will be relying on A4 prints, you will need to allow time to mount each one individually, and its caption.  It can be challenging to get these aligned and straight.

Remember to leave time to pack your exhibition away when you hire the hall.


This is a grand-sounding word for a series of speakers on a theme.  After you have been running for a time, you may realise that between your own members and other speakers, you could put together a day’s meeting around a single subject.  This might be a local worthy, an area or an event for example.

You will need a hall, you will need speakers and you will need an audience, whom you will charge for admission.  It is customary to provide tea, coffee and biscuits morning and afternoon, but not lunch.  If you organise lunch you can charge the audience more and it has the advantage that people stay together and talk to each other, but it entails more work, even if you get a caterer in (and don’t forget special diets).  If you don’t provide lunch for the audience you may take the speakers out to lunch at a nearby hostelry – but remember to add the cost of this into your calculations.  It is normal at these events to offer speakers necessary expenses, but not fees.  The time it will have taken them to make a presentation is way above the budget of most local societies.


E. Research

Quite apart from meetings and events where you inform your members about subjects of interest, some of you will want to undertake research around the subject that interests your society.  Below are some suggestions for how to proceed.

1. Ideas for projects

Unless your society contains a number of professional historians, the best way to start is with a topic that beginners can tackle and which covers a number of sources.  For example if you want to look at pubs in an area, you will end up talking to locals, visiting those pubs still open, looking at local papers, inspecting census returns, and examining trade directories.  You may also glean information from old large-scale maps.

Another option to consider, is to run a local history class with a paid lecturer who will give you either an overview of history from the point of view of a local historian, or a series of lectures on a more limited theme.  Such a class can be purely instructional, or it may involve homework and students being required to undertake some work themselves.  If you go down the latter route, your numbers will be much smaller.

If you want to undertake a project about your community in the Second World War you will need to talk to those who can remember it.  You will need to look at local papers – but remember that they did not publish much bad news.  There will be local authority minutes of the committees that had to cope, and the County Record Office may have letters and other memorabilia.

If you have keen photographers, you might decide to make a study of the buildings in your community.  What do they look like now and what pictures are available or their former selves?  For this you would photograph what is extant, find old pictures that you can copy, look at the local paper and visit the County Record Office.  Now that Planning Offices put material on-line, you may find something about buildings from this source.  Building studies can grow very quickly, so start with a small number of buildings while you get your eye in.

There are of course many other topics you can consider.  The essential, especially for your first one, is a topic that excites your members and will have a variety of sources.  It is also essential to set a time limit and say after that time we will share the information we have gathered.  You will never know everything on a subject and if you try to you will spend more time finding out less and less and will end up bored.  Find out what you can in the time limit and then move on to another topic.  It will be more satisfying and gradually you will build up a wide knowledge.

2. Sharing your Research'

Once you have completed the time that you assigned to your project, you should consider sharing your results.  This could be a talk at a meeting, a conference, a publication (short or long) or an exhibition.  Practical hints on how to organise these are found in ‘Events other than regular meetings’ and ‘Other sources of money’ above.

3. Sources available in Print

There is now a vast amount of original sources in print and on the web.  For the medieval period these sources have usually been translated or summarised in English which overcomes the difficulty of researchers unfamiliar with Latin.  A very helpful guide to what is available in print is contained in D.Dymond, Researching and Writing Local History , and in the very recent article by J.Shee, 'Medieval Local History from published records’, The Local Historian, Vol.45, 2015.

4. Transcribing documents

All really old documents are handwritten and some handwriting is difficult for the modern reader.  Because handwriting is a personal thing, one of you may be able to read one person’s writing more easily than another and then be stumped by a hand that someone else does not find difficult.  You may find that amongst your family history members you have people who have mastered some older handwriting.  You may find that your county record office runs classes in palaeography as reading old writing is called.

What might you use your skills for?  You may decide to start with nineteenth century documents.  For example there may be old letters that interest you.  There are 19th century census returns.  The tithe award comes with map and schedules, the latter being handwritten.

There are deeds relating to property.  Many of these will cover nineteenth and twentieth centuries, but some of the documents will be older and will entail mastering other forms of handwriting.  You will also need gradually to understand the property laws to get the most out of these, but even knowing the names of who owned or lived in a particular premises can be quite exciting.

If your interest is in people, then many of the better off will have written wills.  Again as you work your way back through the centuries, you will encounter some very different handwriting and you may need tuition to help you read it.  In particular for Tudor times, you need to know secretary hand which begins as completely incomprehensible, but with help and patience becomes meaningful.

Documents older than 1500 are nearly all written in Latin and medieval Latin is slightly different from classical Latin and has its own written conventions.  There is help if you want to go down this path and it can be very rewarding, but most of your members will probably get more out of studying the centuries that are recorded in English.

5. Managing original documents, maps and photographs

From time to time, you will be offered original material.  Some of this will be relevant to your society’s aims, and some of it will be old but not relevant.  It may be that you know someone who might be interested in the latter, perhaps the county record office or museum service, but all you can do is refuse it politely while showing that you know it matters to the would-be donor.

Meanwhile what about the material that is relevant to you?  Sometimes people will show you material that they will allow you to copy but which they want to keep.  Copy it, record its source, and sort out whether they will allow you to use it in talks, exhibitions or publications.  Some societies have forms on which they record this information.  At the time you obtained the material, it is obvious where it comes from, five years down the line you may not have a clue.

Finally there is material that is relevant and which people will give you.  If it is something that is relevant to the county record office, copy it and offer it to them.  Such material is better professionally cared for than anything you can arrange.  However check that the donor will agree with course of action.  Some are very keen that material shall stay in its own parish.

This will still leave you with a collection of material that belongs to your society.  If you are exceptionally lucky, you will have a storage place.  This may be a dedicated premises at one end of the scale or a cupboard in the village hall at the other.  If you lack any storage place, then members will store material in their own homes.  Whatever arrangements you made, you need a list of what the society owns and where it is.  In particular if one of your society gives up their local home, you want to be sure that their relatives do not put all your possessions into a skip – getting rid of Dad’s old rubbish…

6. Oral history

Some projects lend themselves to oral history.  This is the branch of history where you go and talk to people about their memories.  It has the charm that you hear history in the accents of the people who lived through it.

The best way of undertaking oral history is to record your conversation and with modern equipment, you can then transfer the sounds into a computer.  You can make notes with pen and paper, but you will lose the patterns of speech and often the subtleties of their language.

You will need to develop techniques for putting people at ease with your recorder sat there in front of them.  You will also need to get their permission to use their words.  Your local record office may be able to suggest a suitable form that you can use.

Once you have the recording you need to add it to your list of possessions, with a summary of what was talked about.

7. Publishing your research

Once you have completed a piece of research, or come to the end of its allotted time span, you need to consider writing it up and publishing it.  The purpose of most research into history is to find out about the past and share it with others.

As set out above, if your society is going to publish your findings, you may have the option of a short piece in a newsletter, a longer article in newsletter or journal, or a standalone book.  You need to decide what length the material deserves and what the market will bear.  An author must be prepared to let others read and criticise their work before publication.  This saves both them and the society from unfortunate occurrences.  These might include boredom by the readers, repetition, inaccuracy, plagiarism (where someone else’s work has been copied), long-windedness and irrelevance.  The society is risking its reputation and its money on publication so is entitled to exercise editorial control.

If your research has wider implications than your society’s immediate concerns, think of sending it to the BALH for consideration for publication in The Local Historian.  The editor will tell you if it is not suitable.  If it is suitable, you will get helpful advice on how to improve it, and the article will go to a specialist referee who will also make helpful comments.

8. Computer storage

Gradually as you gather information, your computer files will start to increase.  You need to set aside one or more directories for your history material and to make back-ups fairly regularly.  You might consider an external hard-disk for your history files because then you can easily take it to someone else’s computer and share information. Remember that you need to check that you can still open all your files from time to time.

If you have a dedicated storage area, you can include the text files where you have copied material, copies of photos, copies of talks given by members of the society and possibly administrative matters pertaining to the society.  For example the membership records should be available in more than one place.

Phoebe Merrick, BALH Assembly Member, Romsey Local History Society (LTVAS Group)


F. In Conclusion

The above shows how to set up a local history society - the things you should consider such as the aim of your group, where your historical interests lie etc., and demonstrates most of the things you need to do for maintaining the group once you have it up and running.  Although it can appear to be quite serious a local history group is also a place to have fun - meetings with like-minded people, the sharing of research, interesting speakers, days out - can all add to the involvement of the group as a whole through the sharing of ideas and new friends.  Some new local history groups may start small and grow, whilst others may maintain the same level of interest with their mainstay being research in the local area or archives, or your group may be made up of people with a specific interest.  Whatever your choice setting up a local history group is a very worthwhile experience.  With the world changing as it is now it’s good to look back at times past.

We hope the above helps to set you on the right road by giving you encouragement to start your local history group.  BALH are always available to help you with any questions you have, and you can reach us by contacting  Don’t worry if there’s a short delay before you receive a reply - your email will be being passed onto the person we feel will be best able to answer your query.  As part of setting up your local history group we hope very much that you will become members of BALH.  As you will see from our website, members receive postal mailings of The Local Historian and Local History News and also receive an email newsletter, written by members for members, which is a good place to share information of your society and to learn about others.  Our BALH Group Insurance is very competitive.

So, good luck, let us know how you get on, and don’t hesitate to contact us if you need further advice. 

Jacquie Fillmore, BALH Vice-Chair


G. Bibliography 

Websites - correct at 15 February 2015

A Manual for Small Archives: by the Archives Association of British Colombia this pdf has been designed to help persons in small archives, with limited access to training, with restricted finances and time. It attempts to explain archival principles and practices, offers guidelines and suggestions for various archival activities

Cataloguing Guidelines for Community Archives: The Community Archives and Heritage Group (CAHG) has developed a set of cataloguing guidelines for community archives. You can download a copy of the guidelines free of charge

East Midlands Oral History Archive: a list of useful links, resources, online training and guides for oral history around the UK

Guides for Natural History Societies: free guides covering a range of topics packed with useful tips and practical advice to help your natural history society flourish

Heritage Lottery Fund: offering a range of different grant programmes with grants from £3,000 to over £5million

How to Form a Local Historical Society / How to Collect the History of Your Area: although an American website by The Manitoba Historical Society there are some good thoughts here on how to set up a local history society and how to collect the history of your area

Local History: Getting Started: the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) gives ideas on how and where to begin local history research with links to Local History leaflets which help to identify archives to consult

Religious Archives Group: as part of the Religious Archives Support Plan, RAG produces its own guidance for religious archives, including an introduction to Archives for Beginners on looking after religious archives based on a training course run by RAG in June 2013

Scotland’s Rural Past: a list of main sources of funding available for community archaeological and heritage projects in Scotland

Starting a Local History Society: an article previously published in BALH Local History News about starting a history society in Leyton and Leytonstone

Starting a U3A British History Group: support for U3A history coordinators, but useful guidelines for others starting a history group

Step by Step Guide to Oral History: basic suggestions for collecting and preserving valuable oral treasures for future generations

The Mark Fitch Fund: an educational charity established in 1956 by Marc Fitch (1908-1994) which makes small grants towards the costs of publishing scholarly work in the fields of British and Irish National, regional and local history …

The National Archives: Archive Principles and Practice: an introduction to archives for non-archivists: a guide to support people who own or look after archive material. It will help to assess and plan for the care and development of your archive collection

The Pub History Society: a brief guide on how to research pub history plus good links to other resources and articles to aid research into this interesting topic


The University of Leicester History School has some very useful guides and podcasts on their website giving advice and tips:

An Introduction to Historical Research: using an academic library; doing archival research, using maps to find out about the past; Historical Trade Directories.

Interpreting Historical Sources: interpreting documents; counting sources; citing sources; interpreting buildings, gravestones, monuments and memorials.

Oral History: what is oral history; planning a project; recording equipment and everything digital; asking the questions; using video; paperwork; what to do with it all; further information and links.

Engaging the Public: broadening your volunteer base; producing displays and exhibitions; producing resources for schools; simple tips for great presentations; how to make a map-based virtual tour in Prezi; promoting your work to newspapers; gaining television coverage for your project; using digital tools to publish and promote your project – blogs and websites, podcasts and social media.

Final Steps: scanning, analysing and archiving photographs; how to manage, catalogue and preserve your collections; copyright considerations; writing local and family history; publishing your findings in print; moving on .. what makes a good funding bid?


West Yorkshire Archive Service (WYAS) Accreditation Scheme:  an accreditation scheme developed by WYAS to create a benchmark of best practice which groups will be able to work towards at their own pace. The accreditation scheme provides a new hub of information for all community heritage groups. Whether you are a new group needing advice on how to get going or an established group possibly looking for ways to branch out into new areas. The information in the accreditation pack provides a baseline for basic standards but also has room for further development



The following book and pamphlets are currently out of print but copies may be found on secondhand book websites ..

Starting the Group: Lionel Munby, 'Starting the Group' in Alan Rogers (ed.) Group Projects in Local History (pub. Dawson in association with The National Institute of Adult Education, 1977), pp 18 -32). Practical guidance, especially useful for those interested in group research projects. Includes sections on setting goals, setting up the group, collecting and analysing material, interpreting sources, and writing up.

Running a Local History Society: Experience of Charlton Kings, Gloucestershire by Mary Paget

Running a Local History Fair by Vic Gray and Bill Liddell

The guidelines in the above two pamphlets, published by BALH in 1988 and 1989, are still relevant today.

And finally ..

Take a look at David Dymond’s book, Researching and Writing Local History, published by Carnegie of Lancaster in association with BALH. Although it is mainly intended for individuals who wish to do more research and writing in this field, it has sections on the role of local societies, and the opportunities and problems which they face today. It argues that local societies can diversify and enrich their programmes now better than ever before by embarking, for example, on oral history, the transcribing of key documents, the production of guidebooks and trails, and photographic recording.