National Life Stories

Photograph of an artwork by Glenys Barton from 2001 titled Within. Photographed by Anne Hardy.
Glenys Barton, 'Within', 2001. Photographed by Anne Hardy. © Glenys Barton.

The UK’s leading oral history fieldwork charity, National Life Stories (formerly the National Life Stories Collection) was established in 1987.

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Its mission is to record first-hand experiences of as wide a cross-section of society as possible, to preserve the recordings, to make them publicly available and encourage their use. Alongside the British Library oral history collections, which stretch back to the beginning of the 20th century, National Life Stories' recordings form a unique and invaluable record of people’s lives in Britain today. You can read a history of National Life Stories online.

As an independent charitable trust within the British Library, National Life Stories' key focus and expertise has been oral history fieldwork. Over the past three decades it has initiated a series of innovative interviewing projects funded almost entirely from sponsorship, charitable and individual donations.

Each collection is archived at the British Library and comprises recorded in-depth interviews of a high standard, plus content summaries and transcripts to assist users. Each individual life story interview is several hours long, covering family background, childhood, education, work, leisure and later life. Information about the collections is provided via the Sound and Moving Image Catalogue and listeners can use the British Library’s onsite Listening and Viewing Service to listen to recordings. A growing number of interviews are being digitised for remote web use on British Library Sounds.

National Life Stories Projects

NLS has completed projects in the steel, oil and gas and publishing industries, with Holocaust Survivors, about the financial capital of the City of London, and corporate oral histories of the Post Office, Tesco, Barings Bank, and the UK water industry. There are a number of active interviewing programmes including Artists’ Lives, Crafts Lives, Architects’ Lives, Authors’ Lives, An Oral History of British Science, An Oral History of the Electricity Supply IndustryLegal Lives and An Oral History of Talking Therapies.

Each NLS project aims to gather a variety of perspectives in the area under study, covering all activities and functions and recording life stories from all parts of the hierarchy: from chief executive to secretary, technician, clerk and cleaner, including the well-known names as well as those who have no public profile but an interesting and enlightening story to tell. All key NLS projects have an expert advisory committee, which shapes and guides the project.

National Life Stories co-ordinates the National Life Stories Goodison Fellowship – which encourages the dissemination of the collections in the public sphere, such as in exhibitions, print, broadcast and new media. Applications are open for the 2020-2021 Fellowship. The closing date for applications is Monday 28 October 2019.

The National Life Stories Lecture was inaugurated in 2014 with 'The Nature of Memory' by Peter Hennessy. The 2017 lecture 'Memory and post-war Britain' was delivered by David Kynaston on 13th March 2017.

Each year National Life Stories publishes its Review and Accounts, which contains articles and reflections on the year’s work from National Life Stories staff, interviewees and researchers:

We have published six episodes of the National Life Stories podcast featuring interviews with interviewers, curators and other members of the team. The podcast is available at iTunes, Soundcloud or wherever you get your podcasts via the RSS feed.

Who’s who at National Life Stories


Chair: Dame Jenny Abramsky

Professor Jon Agar, Bob Boas (Treasurer), Dr Andrew Flinn, Amanda Game, Roger Gavin, Bill Knight OBE, Dr Robert Perks (Company Secretary), Dr Jo Reilly, Mary Stewart (Director)Professor Paul Thompson (Founder), Jennifer Wingate (Associate Director)


Sir Peter Bazalgette, Eric de Bellaigue, Lord Bragg, Professor Mary Chamberlain, Sir John Craven, Dr Mark Girouard, Sir Nicholas Goodison, Professor Leslie Hannah, Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield, Lesley Knox, Lord Rees of Ludlow OM, Professor Linda Mulcahy, Ian Prideaux, Professor Dorothy Sheridan MBE, Jonathan Taylor CBE



Christopher and Gilda Haskins
Hodson and Luanne Thornber


Sir Nicholas Goodison
Lesley Knox


Dame Jenny Abramsky
Bill Knight
Jonathan Taylor

NLS core staff

Senior Academic Advisor

  • Dr Sally Horrocks (An Oral History of British Science and An Oral History of Farming, Land Management and Conservation in Post-War Britain)

Oral Historian and Project Researcher

  • Dr Paul Merchant (An Oral History of Farming, Land Management and Conservation in Post-War Britain)

Project Interviewers

How to support National Life Stories

Through National Life Stories' charitable status, donations or sponsorship are subject to the relevant tax relief for either individuals or companies. There are four tax-efficient and convenient ways to support National Life Stories.

The Gift Aid scheme allows NLS to claim back basic rate tax on any donation received from individual taxpayers. This means that for every £100 donated we can claim an additional £25 from the Inland Revenue if a signed Gift Aid form is received. A Gift Aid form (PDF format) can be obtained from the NLS Director or NLS Bookkeeper. It needs to be completed and returned to the NLS.

Companies now pay the charity the full donation without deducting any tax and in turn obtain full tax relief when calculating their profits for corporation tax.

Donors of shares will no longer be deemed to have a disposal that makes them liable to capital gains tax. The charity will have the option of retaining the shares or selling them. Unlisted shares traded on a recognised exchange are included in this initiative. The individual making such a donation will also be able to reduce their taxable income by the value of the gift. A company donor will obtain full relief against corporation tax.

Support National Life Stories as an NLS Patron

Our Patrons offer generous support through a personal annual gift commitment, initially for three years at three levels. We offer a bespoke programme of engagement including behind-the-scenes discussions and invitations to events. For further details see the NLS Patrons leaflet or contact

Leaving a legacy gift to National Life Stories in your will

Should you decide to make a gift to National Life Stories, you can choose to leave either a share of the residue of your estate or a fixed amount. If you would like to leave a share of the residue of your estate, your professional adviser may find the following wording helpful:

‘I give__% of the residue of my estate to the National Life Story Collection, Registered Charity Number 327571, based at the British Library, 96 Euston Road, NW1 2DB and direct that the receipt of the Treasurer or the proper officer for the time being of the National Life Story Collection shall be a complete discharge to my Executors.’

Should you wish to make a gift of a fixed amount, set out below is suggested wording that your professional adviser can use:

‘I give the sum of £__ to the National Life Stories Collection, Register Registered Charity Number 327571, based at the British Library, 96 Euston Road, NW1 2DB, and I direct that the receipt of the Treasurer or the proper officer for the time being of the National Life Story Collection shall be a complete discharge to my Executors.’

Charity Provisions

It is important that the following clause is also inserted with your gift, whichever wording you decide to use:

‘If at my death any charity named as beneficiary in this Will or any Codicil hereto has changed its name or amalgamated with or transferred its assets to another body then my Executors shall give effect to any gift made to such charity as if it had been made (in the first case) to the body in its changed name or (in the second place) to the body which results from such amalgamation or to which such transfer has been made.’

Tax and making a charitable donation in your Will

Please remember that as the National Life Story Collection is a registered charity (No. 327571), your legacy gift will be exempt from Inheritance Tax. We recommend that you seek advice from your financial or legal adviser.

Further questions

If you have further questions you can contact us by telephone, email or post:

National Life Stories, c/o British Library, 96 Euston Road, London NW1 2DB
020 7412 7404

Related projects

National Life Stories: Crafts Lives

Memories and experiences of independent designer makers working in British studio crafts

National Life Stories: An Oral History of the Electricity Supply Industry in the UK

Life stories of people involved in the industry's development and operation in Britain

National Life Stories: Legal Lives

In-depth interviews with people involved in the legal and criminal justice system

National Life Stories: An Oral History of British Science

An Oral History of British Science is a national collection of in-depth, life story audio interviews with scientists and engineers.

All projects

Oral history projects

National Life Stories Goodison Fellowship

This award of £5,000 allows the Goodison Fellow a period of sustained engagement with the oral history collections in order to share the results in public domain.

National Life Stories: Artists' Lives

Artists’ lives and work in their own words

National Life Stories: Architects' Lives

Documenting the life and work of British architects and their associates

National Life Stories: Authors' Lives

In-depth interviews with leading authors working in Britain today

All projects