8 February 2024 -

Report: Word on the Street

Freya Purcell and Genevieve Drinkwater report on the digital archive project 'Word on the Street' supported by the DHS Virtual Event Award (Student)


In 2019 during the first COVID-19 lock down, a phenomenon swept through the UK; people started placing rainbows and messages of support for the NHS in windows, on door fronts. These messages embodied hope and support for those who tried to save the lives of the pandemic’s victims, using every material and medium, from crochet to graffiti, from the small scale to the large, with thousands coming together to clap for a nation’s health service.

Witnessing this, as MA students, we decided to create an online archive that used crowd sourced images to map and document the voice of the public during these difficult times. Word on the Street documented the ephemera of the public domain which worked to bear witness to the hope, frustration and anger that people felt through this trying time.

The Design History Society Virtual Event Award (Student) granted Word on the Street £150 funding towards the project. This helped pay for one year’s website domain registration and hosting fees to gain further reach for the project. The archive received hundreds of photographs from the public arena to add to the archive.

Three years on the project has moved from a website to Instagram creating a legacy archive which organically grows through the use of hashtags, which anyone from any country can use to document the voice and opinions of the people. While we have moved forward with our careers, the project was and has been a valuable experience. The Word on the Street project allowed us to develop skills in setting up and maintaining a digital archive, and by going on training courses for the project we built on theoretical knowledge by putting it into practical use. We created successful funding applications and through discussion about the project, passed our knowledge on to others interested in setting up digital archives and geo-mapping data points.

Beyond us as founders, the project also allowed volunteers to work with correctly archiving the photographic documents from public sources into the digital archive using national standards in the field of archiving. The use of volunteers allowed us to gain experience in managing a voluntary staff and setting up procedures and policy for the archival staff to follow.

The funding from the DHS was invaluable to the Word on the Street project, allowing for an additional year of data collection and a vast amount of experience gained for both us and the volunteers who worked with the archive. In creating a legacy archive on Instagram the project will continue on in its new iteration, continuing to document the ephemera and social movements of public opinion.

Screenshot of the WotS Instagram


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