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The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) has just given its initial support, including a development grant of £62,300, to Amber Film & Photography Collective. This is the first stage of a £1.5 million project, which will open access to the group’s extraordinary film and photography collection.

The grant enables the detailed development of a full bid to the HLF – the architectural plans, the surveys, assessments, costings and activity plans that will realise the full ambition of the Amber/Side Gallery’s access plans.

The collective came together in 1968 and moved to the North East of England the following year. Committed to documenting working class and marginalised communities, in 1977 it opened Side Gallery, to show its own work and celebrate the best in international documentary. The group started commissioning other photographers to tell the stories of the changing region. It collected exhibitions to show in the gallery and to tour, reflecting its political, social and artistic explorations of the possibilities of documentary photography. And alongside this, Amber continued to make films.

The collection that has grown out of this is unique: hundreds of different stories held together by a single, coherent, continuing narrative; a complex body of artistic work, the focus of which has been sustained for over 40 years. It was recognised in 2011 by UNESCO as of national cultural importance.

The plans, which Amber hopes to start implementing next year, will see the group complete its ambitious programme of cataloguing and digitisation, opening up interpreted access both online and on site at Side Gallery & Cinema.

They will see physical access improvements to the gallery itself along with both a new study centre and enhancements to the exhibition space. They will enable the group to develop a new strand of learning and participation activity at the heart of the operation, using the resources of the archive to inspire and inform work in schools, in colleges and in the community. Crucially, in these difficult times, they will help build a sustainable future for the collection, for the gallery and cinema and for the collective.

The photo shown is from Appleby Horse Fair, by Dave Thomas, held in the Amber/Side collection.

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