Remembrance of Bunac past

Archive’s historical material will be lost unless sector offers it a home

Boys of summer: David Heathcote (second from left) points to archive’s value

For 50 years, the British Universities North America Club (Bunac) helped students from the UK to take their first tentative steps overseas by facilitating work placements in the US.

Now, all that remains of the club’s rich history, including marketing materials, videos, countless accounts and visa documents, is holed up in a London garage looking for a home, as the club’s dwindling resources slowly run dry.

“Ultimately, if we cannot find a home for this material, it will finish up going through the shredder and being recycled. I think that would be a tragedy, but I cannot see an alternative,” David Heathcote, former Bunac national committee member, told Times Higher Education.

“The material traces the changes in attitude among young people to the US from the time of the Vietnam War to the present day. There must surely be a PhD thesis in the material, at least.”

Founded in 1962, Bunac became synonymous with overseas student experiences, most famously through its Summer Camp USA programme. However, as overseas travel became more accessible in the latter part of the 20th century and competition from schemes in an increasing number of countries stiffened, take-up of the programme dwindled.

“The world was opening up. It became a case of ‘go East, young man’, and America was no longer seen as the popular summer destination that it was when I was younger,” said Mr Heathcote, who himself spent “three glorious summers” at a camp in Maine.

Student travel agency STA Travel acquired the Bunac brand in 2011, but so far has opted not to operate the Summer Camp USA programme. Meanwhile, the original club, which is not part of STA Travel, no longer accepts new members and is likely to be closed this year.

Mr Heathcote has fond memories of the club - describing it “first as my girlfriend, and then later, when I was happily married, my mistress”. He does not want the club’s history to be forgotten and is determined to find a home for the archive of material that has collected over time.

“I’m looking to make sure the remains of this old girl are put in a safe place so that her memory is preserved,” he said, adding there are about 30 boxes of material, including a promotional video starring Top Gun director Tony Scott (who took his own life last year).

The items and documents trace the history of the UK’s attitude towards the US over the past 50 years, Mr Heathcote said.

“It seeps out of every pore of the archive,” he added.

If you are interested in giving the Bunac archive a home, please contact Chris Parr at chris.parr@tsleducation.com

Editor’s note: We are happy to make clear that BUNAC, the brand now operated by STA Travel, continues to offer opportunities for young people to work and volunteer abroad; it is the original not-for-profit club that is now closed to new members.

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