‘Ah! That’s Better!’: Sharing heritage in business-community partnership GlaxoSmithKline

Company: GlaxoSmithKline Plc (GSK)
Sector: Pharmaceuticals
Impact: Brand knowledge & marketing; Corporate identity; Corporate responsibility (social); Public engagement; Employee engagement
Sponsor: Jill Moretto (Information Governance and Heritage Archive Manager, GSK) & Bill Renshaw (Library Operations and Archive Manager, St Helens Archive Service, St Helens Council [also known as St Helens Borough Council, and St Helens Metropolitan Borough Council])
Timescale: 1 year (2018-2019)

Project brief

The Beecham Group, one of GSK’s major predecessors and a historic business in St Helens, Merseyside, gave its archive to the local council in 1994 when the site there closed. In 2018, GSK re-visited its arrangement with St Helens Archive Service. A formal gift agreement had not been signed at the time of donation, so GSK had inherited the rights to the material.

The Beecham company was an important part of the local area’s identity for generations. The collection allows the St Helens community to reminisce and reconnect with its past. GSK agreed that St Helens Archive Service should keep the physical collection.

Both parties established a mutually beneficial partnership with the aims to:

  • Transfer legal ownership of the Beecham collection to St Helens Council.
  • Digitise select items from the Beecham collection and GSK archive that both parties could access and use in their work.
Beecham Group Annual Report cover, 1966
Beecham’s Pills advert “Feel First Class,” 1920s
St Helens labs, 1930s
St Helens clocktower, 1950
Packaging up Beecham’s Pills, 1940s
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Through working with St Helens, GSK has not only gained a gap-filling asset to support employee and customer relations but has also built a relationship with a new partner and indirectly reached the local community. Long may it continue!
Jill Moretto, Information Governance and Heritage Archive Manager, GSK
We at St Helens Archive Service found the process of working in partnership with GSK and the sector development team extremely rewarding and an excellent example of multi partnership working. Working with GSK, the digitisation of the Beecham’s collection has enabled us to better support heritage within the community and forge new partnerships.
Bill Renshaw, Library Operations & Archive Manager, St Helens Libraries

Business archives used by the team

  • Beechams Pills Limited and the Beecham Group collection (reference: BP) at St Helens Archive Service in St Helens, Merseyside, UK. Records date from 1820-1994 and consist of correspondence files, financial records, photographs, advertisements and ephemera.
  • The Beecham Group records at GSK (reference 4BE) comprise mostly corporate material from 1848 - 1989: board minutes, AGMs, annual reports, product marketing and staff magazines. The annual reports and staff magazines were digitised for this project.

Outcomes and business benefit

  • GSK signed a gift agreement confirming donation of the collection to St Helens Council and effectively to the people of St Helens who elect the council.
  • 100s of photographs and advertisements digitised
  • Improved internal awareness and understanding at GSK of the company’s history
  • Increased selection of images from archive material approved for use on GSK’s social media channels
  • Allowed GSK to fill a gap in the digitised collections shared on their internal website. St Helens Archive Service added new images to its online community archive and increased heritage engagement resources for local schools

Lessons Learnt

  • Companies benefit from being open to new ideas and working with others. This can have a positive impact on collections and increase their reach to the wider community that a company supports.
  • Having a good community relationship can enhance positive public opinion of a business.
  • Companies looking to develop archive partnerships can talk to The National Archives (TNA). It provides a free advisory service relating to archives with regional and specialist Sector Development Managers.
  • Amazing historical resources are held by local heritage services. Maps, directories, photographs and community collections can be key to enhancing the company’s history. Firms can reach out to other archives as they may well have material that provides context to and enhances understanding of the company’s significance.

Additional Resources