Clean Break Archive
30.07.19

Blog: The Clean Break Archive Project

To mark Clean Break’s 40th Anniversary, we are delighted to be working with the Bishopsgate Insitute to create an archive of Clean Break’s work, to document the history of our organisation and make it publicly accessible for the first time.

For us the Clean Break archive presents a unique opportunity to study the history of women in criminal justice, feminist activism and alternative theatre in the UK in the 20th Century. Our mission is to bring the hidden stories of imprisoned women to a wider audience, and we hope that the stories in the archive will continue our work to inspire playwrights, captivate audiences and fuel research on the complex theme of women and crime.

The Archive Team

We have been working with Clean Break Members and community volunteers to explore the contents of our archive on-site, and will be collecting oral histories from our founders, staff and members past and present. Bringing together these women, we are working as a team to explore the archive with each woman bringing a unique experience and hope for what they want to achieve from the process. Each day the Archive Team have been inspired by what we have uncovered, some highlights so far have included; postcards created on International Women’s Day 2007 which included drawing, poetry and personal opinions from clean Break Members, original posters from productions as early as Sin Eaters and folders of lesson plans from our old education programme.

As part of the project the team visited the Bishopsgate Institute, and were treated to a tour of their archives by Special Collections and Archives Manager, Stefan Dickers. One member stated;

“What insight into how varied and interesting archiving can be – it whetted my appetite to discover more about Clean Break’s history. I also noted the “Harass Your MP” T-Shirts by the Stop the War coalition – which was so relevant to our Clean Break Mass Lobby of Parliament with Women in Prison to reduce the number of women in prison”

Future of the Project

We asked the Archive Team what their hopes for the future are from looking at the past, their answers highlighted the importance of undertaking a project which looks in such detail at the past in order to influence the future, these included;

“That more organisations can look to Clean Break as a model of how to change lives.”

“I Have been accepted to do qualification in Archiving at UCL and hope this will help put theory into practice.”

“I hope I can refresh my mind. If ever in doubt that it’s okay to feel the way I am feeling, and it will pass. And with the tools I have picked up along the way anything / everything is possible”.

As well as setting up an archive at Bishopsgate, we will be creating a touring installation inspired by the archive that will tour alongside Sweatbox from September 2019, working with designer Miriam Nabarro, supported by Clean Break Member Liz Whitbread to transform the prison van into a space where you can explore some of Clean Break’s history.

Claire Stone, Heritage Project Manager commented, “In 1979 Clean Break was established by two brilliant women who refused to let prison silence them. We are delighted to be working with our Members, volunteers, artists and the Bishopsgate Institute to share the story and legacy of Clean Break’s work, and how it continues to tell inspirational and challenging stories about women and justice today.” 


We’d like to thank our partners the Bishopsgate Institute and National Lottery Heritage Fund for making the Clean Break Archive possible.

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tags : Blog