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Race against time to preserve history of disability and war hero

Leading charity Leonard Cheshire is in race against time to preserve its fascinating but fragile historic sound recordings of its founder, war hero and global humanitarian, Leonard Cheshire. These, along with experiences of disabled people from around the world, will be lost forever unless the charity acts fast.

Thanks to funding from The National Lottery Heritage Fund, the charity is set to digitise these hundreds of sound recordings, some of which date back to 1950 and cover the impact of World War II, the disability movement in the UK and the development of disability charities globally. 

Leonard Cheshire Archivist, Stephanie Nield said:

“Time is not on our side. Due to their fragile nature, these tapes are at risk of decay. Unless something is done urgently, they and the history they represent could be lost forever.

“Digitising these files isn’t just about protecting them; it’s also about making them accessible to anyone who’s interested in learning about the impact of war and the changing experience of disability in the UK and internationally. We have a short window of opportunity to inspire future generations and share this hidden collection of vital social history.”

In one clip, Leonard Cheshire says:

“If you remember about eight, nine years when the war was over we used to feel… that there was something missing. Whereas in the war we'd all stuck together and we had something to do, once the war was over we were rather individuals each going our own course. And several of us thought we ought to do something about it.”

Colin Hyde, from East Midlands Oral History Archive said:

“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”.

Anne Jenkins, Director, England: Midlands & East, The National Lottery Heritage Fund said:

“These sound archives provide an important insight into the history of the disability movement in the UK. We are proud that National Lottery funding will safeguard them for the future, and that they can be shared for generations to come who can continue their legacy.”

The collection of recordings, once complete, will be available freely on Leonard Cheshire’s website so that anyone can access this unique look into the past, under what the charity is calling its ‘Resonate’ project. The charity will also launch this digital audio collection with engaging community events in the East Midlands, where its Archive Centre is based.

For more information about the Resonate project and Leonard Cheshire’s Archive Centre, including information on volunteering opportunities, please contact Archive Manager Stephanie Nield: stephanie.nield@leonardcheshire.org or go to the website www.rewind.leonardcheshire.org.

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