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Race to save ‘irreplaceable’ Vietnamese archive left on roof for months

Far East London: the An Viet House in Dalston is set to welcome Filipinos and Chinese locals too. Photograph: HCCS
Photograph: HCCS

Community organisers and academics are battling to save as much as they can of an “irreplaceable” archive holding the historical records of Vietnamese refugees which was dumped on a roof by squatters.

Hackney Chinese Community Services (HCCS) are still gearing up to move into their new centre at the Old Bath Community House off Kingsland Road, which had previously been the home for the An Viet Foundation, a centre for the Vietnamese community including refugees and asylum seekers.

The Foundation’s entire archive, which also includes documents about the history of the organisation, its accounts and various campaigns, are understood to have been dumped on the roof by squatters who had been occupying the building.

Jabez Lam of HCCS said: “The foundation’s records had been on the roof for I don’t know long, and were all soaked after months of rain. One of our volunteers went out and retrieved most of the documents from the roof, so we managed to salvage four of fifteen large boxes.

“The Foundation also had a South East Asian research library, which has over 2000 books for PhD students researching the Vietnamese community. The squatters had taken the bookshelves down, thrown the books on the floor and used the bookshelves as a partition, but we have saved them.

“We now have the four boxes in the Chinese Centre’s storeroom. We also have contact with University of East London (UEL), who have said that they would like to help.”

Academics are now working to salvage what is left of the Foundation’s records, which are in a mixture of English and Vietnamese, with UEL saying that it is dedicated to supporting organisations and groups to help preserve the culture and heritage of the diaspora.

The university has run an MA in Refugee Studies for over twenty years, with the Archives of the Refugee Council committed to supporting the preservation of the cultural heritage of refugees and migrants, which the college says is “an often under-documented record within the wider historical discourse on the history of East London”.

UEL archivist Paul Dudman said: “Supporting community organisations is a key part of our work with the UEL Archives, and the records of the An Viet Foundation provide an invaluable source of information documenting the history and contribution of the Chinese and Vietnamese communities in London.

“The Campaign for Voluntary Sector Archive has highlighted the importance of such records and the dangers that they face and the current experience of the An Viet Foundation represents a tragic example of the dangers to these records and how easily a community’s history can be endangered.

“We hope that we can work with Hackney Chinese Community Services in helping to safeguard as much of their invaluable heritage as possible.”

HCCS, which has around forty users a day, is currently operating in cramped conditions just off Mare Street, and is forced to hold some of its classes in store rooms.

The Town Hall released £400,000 for the redevelopment of the Old Bath House, with London Mayor Sadiq Khan donating £35,000 to the endeavour.

An opening date for the community cafe is set for May of next year, though Lam says that the council have yet to start work on the building, which is estimated to take about 20 weeks.

Once open, HCCS’s community kitchen will hold training sessions in East Asian cuisine, as well as pop up restaurants and opportunities for local catering events and a resource centre acting as a hub for knowledge, skills and expertise amongst East Asian communities

Hackney Council was approached for comment, but had not responded by time of going to press.



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