Help the West Sussex Record Office document these unprecedented times

West Sussex Record Office needs your help.


Release date: 7 April 2020

West Sussex Record Office has closed its doors for the first time in over 70 years because of Coronavirus (COVID-19), but their great work continues and they need residents’ help.

The team are inviting residents across the county to record a diary that will be kept alongside other pandemic related records. These will then be catalogued, stored and ultimately become available to the public for research.

All residents need to do is document their experiences during the Coronavirus pandemic, including how it is affecting them, their family and friends and the local community. It can also include new experiences, thoughts and feelings.

The diary can be recorded on paper or on a phone and be done as an individual, part of a family project within the same household, a creative outlet or simply as a daily record.

Screen Archive South East, who are already partnered with the Record Office and look after all the moving image archives for the region, will be supporting to archive the video diary footage.

Duncan Crow, Cabinet Member for Fire and Rescue and Communities, said: “The current situation is an extraordinary one and something the majority of us will never have experienced before. The West Sussex Record Office is in a privileged position to be able to document what is going on right now, but some of this can’t be done without help from West Sussex residents, who are in a unique position to provide personal insight at this difficult time.

“Please let the Record Office have your experiences of what it is like living under the new government guidance and let us know how it is affecting your day-to-day lives, what you are doing to cope and how your daily routine has adapted. We want people to be as open and honest as possible and record how they are feeling so that future generations have an insight into what happened at the start of this new decade.”

If people don’t want to participate in a diary, the Record Office would also like help in collecting other material that residents might come across such as:

  • leaflets/flyers/posters from councils and other organisations about the pandemic
  • material from local businesses relating to closures or changes to how they operate
  • advice from local organisations about hygiene, social distancing and self-isolation
  • information about community efforts to help vulnerable and isolated persons
  • information from local schools regarding closures and home-schooling.

If you’re interested in finding out how you can support this Record Office initiative, please visit their blog.

Frequently Asked Questions:

What does West Sussex Record Office do?

West Sussex Record Office (commonly abbreviated to WSRO) acquires and preserves the historic archives of the County, makes them available to everyone who wishes to see them, and promotes their use for study and enjoyment.

The Record Office was set up in 1946 and has been located in its current purpose-built archive centre at 3 Orchard Street, Chichester, since 1989. It holds collections dating back to 780 AD.

WSRO looks after records relating to almost every aspect of life in West Sussex. Key areas include local authorities, churches, schools, hospitals, businesses, landed estates, the Royal Sussex Regiment, photographs, maps, and community archives. We also collect records of local individuals which help to document the lives of ordinary people and the communities they live in.

Why is WSRO interested in collecting diaries about Covid-19?

WSRO’s mission is to collect unique documents relating to the history of the county of West Sussex, including items which record the local impact of major events such as the Covid-19 pandemic.

We have diaries at the Record Office dating back over three hundred years and they give us a unique window into the past and bring history to life before our eyes. By contributing diaries and other material recording your experience of the Covid-19 pandemic, you will help historians of the future to understand what people thought, felt and experienced during this time and offer them an insight into the impact of this event on people locally.

What type of material will WSRO take in?

WSRO can take in material in paper or digital format and accepts a wide range of different types of documents including, but not limited to, diaries, photographs, letters, leaflets, flyers, posters, oral histories. We are keen to create a community archive which is representative of people’s experience of the Covid-19 pandemic so welcome donations of any documents relating to this. This might include a diary kept in a notebook or photographs taken on your phone which document the impact of the pandemic. These are just two examples but if you are unsure, please don’t hesitate to contact us on and we can advise.

If you are creating material in a digital format then we ask that you use file types which are widely used and supported. These include: Microsoft Word (.docx or .doc), Microsoft Excel (.xlsx or .xls), TIFF (.tiff), JPEG (.jpeg), PDF (.pdf), .wav and .mp3. If you have any questions about the file formats of your digital records and what we can accept then please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Although WSRO does not take in films or video, we are working with our partners, Screen Archive South East, who can. If you have films or video which you would like to deposit, please let us know and we will put you in touch with Screen Archive South East.

If you are taking photographs or filming you should ensure that people appearing in the image or film have given their permission or cannot be identified (e.g. if you are taking a photograph of a queue you might want to do so from the back so that people’s faces can’t be seen).

Unfortunately WSRO cannot accept objects but please get in touch if you have this kind of material, or if you are unsure whether or not WSRO will take something, and we will be able to offer advice.

How do I send my diary to WSRO?

There are several different ways WSRO can receive material including in person, via post, and over email. However, before you bring an item in or send it, please contact us ( We may need to arrange an appointment to meet you, have questions about the format the item is in, discuss with you what will happen to the item(s) you donate, and agree what will happen with the copyright in the item.

If you are depositing a diary, it would be very helpful if you could write a very short paragraph to include your name, where you are from, your occupation and a little bit about yourself. This only needs to be a couple of sentences but it will help us, and researchers, to understand more about the context in which your diary was created.

What are the terms on which WSRO will take my diary? Is there anything to sign?

We are asking that any Covid-19 related material comes to us as a gift. This means that the ownership of the item will pass to WSRO on behalf of West Sussex County Council. This is to ensure that all material in this new community archive can be managed on the same terms.

We also ask, where possible, that copyright in your diary or photographs is assigned to WSRO and this is something we will discuss with you when you contact us about a potential deposit.

There will be a very short receipt to sign to confirm that you have donated an item or items to WSRO. We are also drafting a form which will enable you to specify in more detail how you are happy for your diary and/or other item(s) to be used.

What will WSRO do with my diary?

Any material which comes to WSRO is catalogued. This means that each item is assigned a unique reference number and archive staff write a brief description about the document to help researchers find it on our online catalogue. You can see some examples on our catalogue here: You could try typing ‘diary’ in the Quick Search box near the top of the screen to see examples of how other diaries have been catalogued.

WSRO will write the catalogue number on the diary or change the title of a digital item to incorporate the new reference. We will also take any measures which are necessary to preserve the document. This might involve repackaging it in archival materials, repairing damaged items, or creating digital copies.

Once this has been done, your diary can be found on the online catalogue and researchers can come into the Record Office to look at it.

Cataloguing can be a time-consuming process, particularly when we have received a large quantity of material, so the catalogue entries for your items will not appear online immediately.  However, rest assured that we will be working on this and a catalogue entry for your item(s) will appear online in due course.

Who will be able to see my diary? Will it be online?

Anyone who is interested will be able to come into the Record Office to look at your diary or other material you have deposited. This might include academics, school pupils, local and family historians, and there may be some media interest. Please be aware that researchers can request copies of material you have deposited for their own private research unless you have specified otherwise. Copies may be provided on paper as photocopies or electronically as scans but researchers sign an agreement to state that any copies they receive will not be reproduced elsewhere.

When you bring your diary in, we will ask you how you are happy for us to use it. We will not share your diary online unless you have given us explicit permission to do so.

What happens if my diary contains information I don’t want other people to see?

We understand that diaries by their nature can contain very personal and private information. If this is the case then we will discuss with you the possibility of applying a closure period. This means that no-one (aside from Record Office staff) will be able to see your diary for that time. We can be flexible about the length of the closure period and will discuss with you whether a closure period will be necessary and if so how long it would be appropriate to close your diary for.

There is also the possibility that your diary may contain information which would cause damage or distress to people mentioned in it. If this is the case, then under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) WSRO will need to close your diary to protect those individuals. Staff will discuss with you whether there is the possibility that your diary contains sensitive information about other people and will also check themselves. If your diary does need to be closed under Data Protection legislation then staff will contact you to let you know.

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