Today marks the first major phase of Coram’s ambitious new Voices Through Time: The Story of Care programme, with the help of volunteer transcribers, to digitise its archive dating back to when it was established as the Foundling Hospital in 1739.

Funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the programme will see the digitisation of 25% of the archive, around 112,000 pages of the most fragile records, bringing to life the personal stories of the children who grew up in London’s Foundling Hospital, the UK’s first dedicated home for children whose parents were unable to care for them. The content will be made accessible online on this website, alongside an interactive timeline of care, illuminating the history of the birthplace of social care, with the legal, social and cultural milestones in the story. 

We are calling for volunteers to help with transcribing the documents online, starting with the General Registers, which record the details of children admitted to the Foundling Hospital from 1741. Other materials that will be digitised during the four-year project include the petition letters from mothers appealing for their children to be able to live in the Hospital, and books containing fabric tokens left as a symbol of the connection of children and their mothers.

Coram’s Foundling Hospital archive, which is housed at the London Metropolitan Archives (LMA), extends over 245 linear metres of records and contains these intriguing stories and 25,000 more, tracing children’s lives throughout their time at the Foundling Hospital and beyond.

As the government embarks on an independent review of children’s social care, it is more important than ever to examine and learn from the narrative of our collective history, charting the key moments in the evolution of children’s rights, policy and practice and to hear directly from children and young people today about their views and aspirations for the future of care.

When transcription of the materials is complete, they will be brought to life both for new audiences to view online in our archive and safeguarded for future generations.

The website will also feature content from care-experienced young people today, who are taking part in a series of creative projects engaging with the archive to understand and share their own stories of care.

Dr Carol Homden, CEO of Coram, said: “Coram’s archive represents an unbroken institutional narrative from our establishment as The Foundling Hospital in 1739 to the present day as a group of specialist organisations at the heart of the children’s sector. It tells us about the daily lives of children and their mothers and the agonising choices they faced in what was a very different time but also the enduring issues and challenges of care which continue today.

“It is our duty to ensure its long-term preservation of this precious archive for future generations and to work with young people in care today to explore their heritage and stories and tackle the issues they continue to face, feeling overlooked and misunderstood by the wider public. This is why the young people’s voice is at the heart of this work, enabling them to engage with the past, explore the present and influence the future of care.”

Volunteer opportunities for the programme take place online using global volunteering platform Zooniverse and involve transcribing portions of text in the historical documents. Volunteering is open to everyone with access to the internet – no specialist background, training or expertise is required.