The Dream to Change the World Project (2010-2015)

In 2010 we received an Heritage Lottery Fund award to open up to public access the archives of our late founding Chair, John La Rose (1927-2006), one of the most important activists and publishers in Black British and Caribbean history. Making Black British history open to all has, we believe, contributed to the UK becoming more integrated than other parts of Europe. By doing this internationally, we hope to increase cultural awareness and to break the discontinuity of information between generations of black and minority ethnic populations in this continent and beyond. This is part of our continued struggle for social justice and racial equality.

Aims of project: to appraise the collection and store it at the GPI; to catalogue at least 40 percent of it for public access; a series of learning and outreach activities would run alongside the conservation scheme, aiming to involve a wider audience in the archive and including specific volunteering opportunities; we would work with at least 50 volunteers over the course of the project (not all at the same time!) and at least 15 of these volunteers would be new to the GPI.


The Dream to Change the World Project was a huge success. We catalogued over 880 files, the majority full of correspondence between John La Rose, authors and publishers relating to New Beacon Books, plus files relating to organisations and projects. Many of these files cross reference to our existing collections, in particular, the Caribbean Artists Movement, Black Education and Black Parents Movements. 50 boxes of additional material were sorted and the majority identified and catalogued, a slow process but such material can be so important for placing files and documents in context. A catalogue of audio and audio-visual material was completed (some 300 items in all) and we continue to digitise recordings in-house to make this material as accessible as posible. A collection of photos was identified by members of the La Rose family and the data entered onto our database. Fragments of poetry and prose were discovered in John La Rose's notebooks and these can be viewed alongside his manuscripts, some of which have been published in Unending Journey. We also discovered a number of manuscripts sent to John La Rose and New Beacon but turned down for publication. These required further research to establish whether we had any unpublished gems from authors who have subsequently become well known. And we must not forget John's well-travelled briefcase! This was cleaned, the documents carefully removed from inside, conserved and catalogued. We promised you the full story behind these documents: following the discovery of 2 hotel receipts from the Hotel Colon in Madrid in a pocket of the briefcase, it suggests that the case did indeed travel to Cuba for the 1968 Cultural Congress of Havana (John stopped over in Madrid on his way to the Congress). The full catalogue and background to the collection can be found in the archive collection CCH Cultural Congress of Havana. The contents of the case consists of papers from Congress sessions, correspondence, photographs and ephemera. 

We created 5 new collections from John La Rose's archives: LRA - The Personal Papers of John La Rose; CCH - The 1968 Cultural Congress of Havana; CVL - Carnival Material; NAS - National Association of Supplementary Schools (NASS); and PPK - Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners in Kenya. All are available for research via the GPI Archives.

The Bookman Research Project and Book Club:

The Bookman Research Project into the early origins of the publishing work done by John La Rose with New Beacon Books ran from October 2012 to September 2013. It was a major part of our HLF-funded Dream to Change the World project. Ruth Bush was appointed as the researcher and her completed work is available for viewing on the GPI website - see page New Beacon Books the Pioneering Years. Ruth was also keen to do some public sessions and this sparked the formation of a successful book club where people came together at the GPI to study and discuss some of the early New Beacon publications. The book club brought many new people to the GPI and we are hoping to continue the public sessions in the future.

School Project:

Our school project, led by Sarita Mamseri, and spread over 2 years, came to a successful end with a Shared Experience Day at the British Library in December 2012. This allowed both schools to meet up and work together on a series of shared tasks. Our pop-up exhibition about the school project was on tour around a number of local schools and libraries.

Publication of Unending Journey: selected writings by John La Rose:

Another strand of the Dream to Change the World Project was to catalogue and conserve a number of manuscripts written by John La Rose. A selection of his writings has been published under the title Unending Journey. This title is taken from one of John's poems, which he himself had written on the cover of a file where he was compiling articles and essays, perhaps thinking of a future publication. The selection covers four decades and is a taster of John's numerous interests as well as containing ideas that resonate with issues today. If you wish to obtain a copy, please see the Publications page for further information.


The project was brought to an inspiring finish with our exhibition Dream to Change the World:the Life and Legacy of John La Rose, which took place in Islington Museum from 22 May to 29 August 2015. The exhibition was a huge success and we welcomed over 5000 visitors to the display during the 3 months. Stuart Hobley, Chair of the HLF's London Committee and Rosemary Doyle, Head of Islington Libraries and Heritage Services, were present at the opening of the exhibition and both gave warm and positive speeches to the many friends and guests present. Three public outreach events were organised to accompany the exhibition and all were well attended. 

Volunteer work:

We worked with over 50 volunteers who helped us enormously with all aspects of the Dream to Change the World Project - cleaning and identifying material, outreach work, and cataloguing. Volunteers are at the heart of our work here at the GPI.  If you would be interested in getting involved as a volunteer, please email our Archivist, Sarah Garrod, Further information about volunteering at the GPI can be found in our Volunteering section.