Hair, diaries and messages of hope

25 March 2021

"Collecting for museums to reflect contemporary life is an ongoing process, but it has been even more crucial this past year"

A year on from lockdown #1 and Tyneside museums and Tyne & Wear Archives have been busy adding to museum and archives collections to reflect what life is like in the midst of a global pandemic.  

Hair cuttings, a toilet roll, rainbows and personal diaries are just some of the objects that Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums (TWAM) has collected over the past year to reflect everyday life in the region in the time of Covid-19, to convey the story of our times for future generations.  

People across Tyneside submitted over 30 digital images of the rainbows that they created at home during the first lockdown in 2020; out of these, five pictures, with their donor’s stories, will join the collection.  

Keeper of History at TWAM Kylea Little said:  

“Collecting for museums to reflect contemporary life is an ongoing process, but it has been even more crucial this past year as we reach the first anniversary of lockdown. 

“We’re building up a picture of our lives while living through a pandemic; we still have much more to collect when the museums reopen and it is safe to do so, and have several acquisitions in the pipeline with a variety of sources, from PPE to the Newcastle City Guide uniforms, and the personal stories from people across Tyneside.” 

Tyne & Wear Archives conducted two surveys asking for in-depth responses to specific questions about people’s personal experiences across Tyneside and Wearside, and have to date over 1,040 responses; more surveys are planned this year.  

Lizzy Baker, Archives Lead said:  

“We are delighted with the amount of people who have engaged with us so far and offered their personal insights in to what they have experienced.  

“Their answers provide a unique snapshot of an extremely unusual time. Many of them are very moving, and we found a lot of the respondents were happy to share their emotions and feelings.”  

Sue Cree from Newcastle donated her lockdown diaries to Tyne & Wear Archives; of three physical volumes, the last is illustrated. 

South Shields Museum & Art Gallery collected hair cuttings from four people’s first lockdown haircuts across South Tyneside; all donations join the museum collection with oral histories. The museum already houses globally celebrated South Shields author Catherine Cookson’s plaits.  

Adam Bell, Assistant Keeper of History at South Shields Museum & Art Gallery said:   

“For each person who either donated their hair or their rainbow we also captured an oral history, to put their donation into context by capturing their memories and reflections of the pandemic and how they and their family coped.  

“I have heard, and captured for the museum collection, so many different stories, from the heart-breaking, to the hopeful, to the funny.” 

Supermarket signage for food shortages, road signage and lockdown birthday banners are also joining the museum’s collections. 

TWAM has been in talks with a variety of groups across Tyneside to capture Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) made by Northumbria University and scrubs made by Barbour in South Shields, among others.  

Thinking of donating something?

Anyone interested in discussing a donation to Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums, please email or for Tyne & Wear Archives please email