Exciting future for Archives Service proposed

5 September 2017

Cheshire Archives and Local Studies, a shared service of Cheshire West and Chester Council and Cheshire East Council, needs a new home as its current one in Duke Street, Chester, is no longer fit for purpose.

Under proposals due before both authorities’ cabinets next week, the archive would be rehoused in two new bespoke history centres – one in Chester and one in Crewe. 

These would be climate-controlled environments to house the collections, better display them and make them more interactive and accessible to the public.

The archive ranges from the middle ages to the present day and includes 8km of archives from businesses, schools, hospitals and local clubs and organisations. In addition it has tens of thousands of photographs, maps and books covering all aspects of Cheshire’s history.

The £13m joint scheme, if approved, would see each authority contribute £4.2m each with the remainder of the money being sought via a bid for a Heritage Lottery Fund grant. The proposed site for Chester’s new history centre is the former Business Enterprise site on Hoole Road. Crewe’s history centre would be located at the ‘Old Library’ site in the town centre.

Councillor Louise Gittins, Cabinet member for Communities and Wellbeing, said: “Currently the archives service helps over a million people each year, through visits to the record office, outreach events, support for community history projects, services in libraries and through its websites.

“Sites in Chester were identified through discussions with Chester Growth Partnership, the Chester One City Plan and the Chester Heritage and Visual Arts Strategy. Feedback has also been considered from existing users from a 2014 consultation. The new proposals will protect our irreplaceable heritage for future generations, whilst also making them more accessible.” Councillor David Brown, Cheshire East Council deputy leader and cabinet member responsible for archives, said: “The cabinets will hear a proposal to replace the current facility, which is no longer suitable for the long term preservation of the unique archives, with two new history centres in Chester and Crewe as part of an improved, single, joint archive service.

“This proposal is really exciting and the centre in Crewe would make our unique, precious and richly-diverse archives far more accessible for Cheshire East residents and visitors alike – and would help attract many more visitors to the town centre.”  

Under the proposals the new centres will incorporate facilities for exhibitions, events, research and more space for volunteers, while also allowing for the better preservation of the county’s rich written heritage. The proposal also sees the service developing plans to make the archives more accessible throughout the county through an expanded outreach programme and digital access. The proposals will be more fully developed over the next two to three years including consultation with residents, service users and new users.

The history centre in Chester would house the majority of the collections. It is a natural, logical home for the service given the city’s long history as the seat of county government. The centre would be an access point for research, exhibitions and interpretation connected to the history of the county and its people and for events and workshops. 

It would also be the home of the county-wide Local Studies collection. The collections will also be used to support wider story-telling throughout the city and wider borough through exhibitions and interpretation in other venues such as museums and libraries. The need for a new facility in Chester is a strategic priority within the Chester Heritage and Visual Arts Strategy, adopted in March 2017.

The Crewe history centre would specifically reflect the story and heritage of the communities of Cheshire East. 

The decisions will be taken at a meeting of Cheshire East Council’s cabinet on 12 September and Cheshire West and Chester Council cabinet on 13 September. 

Subject to funding, the proposal new facilities would open in 2022/23.

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