Trove of British-Vietnamese history rescued for future generations

An exhibition held at An Viet House.

An exhibition held at An Viet House called Record, Retrieve, Reactivate in March 2018, co-curated by Cuong Pham & Will Pham. - Credit: Jalaikon

A Hackney charity has helped save the largest known archive of British-Vietnamese history, which was almost lost to vandalism. 

Hackney Chinese Community Services and the council have saved a catalogue of documents and artefacts, including self-published British-Vietnamese poetry, biographies and irreplaceable papers documenting the work of De Beauvoir's An Viet Foundation.

The foundation was a centre for Britain's Vietnamese community and was set up in the borough in 1981, to support Vietnamese people settling in London after the Vietnam War. 

Thousands of Vietnamese refugees resettle in Britain between 1975 and the 1990s. 

The council's archives manager Dr Etienne Joseph said: “When I first learnt about the plight of the An Viet Foundation archive collection I was really concerned that such a unique and valuable piece of Hackney’s history could be lost forever."

Dr Joseph added that conservation work, funded by the government's £500,00 Covid-19 Archives Fund, and issued by The National Archives, will see the collection rescued. 

An Viet Foundation acted as a central hub to support Vietnamese families. It offered help with housing, health outreach, English language and mother-tongue classes.

The foundation also housed the Southeast Asian Research Centre, established by its former director Mr Vu Khanh Thanh.

An Viet House, also known as the Old Bath House, on Englefield Road in De Beauvoir, Hackney. 

An Viet House, also known as the Old Bath House, on Englefield Road in De Beauvoir, Hackney. - Credit: Jalaikon


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Hackney's mayor Philip Glanville said the preservation work was "crucial" to recognising Chinese, Vietnamese and other Southeast Asian communities' "long contribution to the borough".

He added: "[It is also crucial] in telling and cherishing the stories of our proud and diverse migrant history. Reminding us all of the deep challenges many communities often faced as they built their home here."

The foundation shut in 2017 and its historical trove of documents were left behind at its former An Viet House base on Englefield Road.

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They were later found significantly damaged by vandalism and must now receive emergency conservation treatment before being moved to a new home. 

Cuong Pham, leader of the work to secure the An Viet legacy, added that the funding for the conservation work means "we are able to take the first steps to ensure future researchers and generations are able to access pivotal moments of British-Vietnamese migration and diaspora history."

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