Staffordshire History Centre
National Lottery funding secured for Staffordshire History Centre
Over a thousand years of Staffordshire’s history is to be brought to life in an exciting new heritage project thanks to National Lottery funding.
Bringing together three incredible collections, from the Staffordshire and Stoke on Trent Archive Service, the County Museum and the William Salt Library, the project will create exciting and imaginative ways to connect Staffordshire people and their stories.
Staffordshire County Council and its partner the William Salt Library Trust, has received a National Lottery Heritage Fund grant of £3,964,000 towards the Staffordshire History Centre project.
Made possible by money raised by National Lottery players, the project will include an extension to the existing Staffordshire Record Office on Eastgate Street in Stafford incorporating the William Salt Library. The Library will be restored and will retell the story of the building as well as William Salt and his collection. A modern glazed link between the Library and the record office will create a new entrance and permanent exhibition space to showcase the collections.
In addition to modern reading areas, and research labs the centre will also allow people to discover more about their family or local history by visiting exhibitions, taking part in events and family activities.
Extra strong rooms will provide space for a further 55 years of collections and a new learning offer will be created for schools with courses for students and adult learners. The centre will be supported by a programme of touring exhibitions and targeted projects to reach all communities across the county.
Commenting on the award, Victoria Wilson, Cabinet Member for Communities and Culture at Staffordshire County Council said: “We are all thrilled with the funding award which will allow us to preserve and promote the wonderful history of our great county and people.
“We’re incredibly proud of our history and amazing collections, and we want to be able to share them and be able to protect them for future generations to enjoy. Not only will the project help to get more people interested in our history but it will also give us a brand new heritage attraction which will support the recovery of Stafford town centre.”
Staffordshire Archives and Heritage collections are nationally important stretching back over 1000 years. The archives are designated outstanding including rare items such as Anglo-Saxon charters confirming the foundation of Burton Abbey and a letter written on the eve of the American revolution.
The museum collections include the Douglas Hayward puppet collection and carriage collection both of national significance. The William Salt Library is an outstanding rare book and manuscript collection amassed by Victorian collector William Salt whose family originated in Stafford. The Georgian Library building held the collection for over a 100 years and has its own history as a fine town house, a doctor’s surgery and a shop before becoming a Library.
Mithra Tonking, Chair of the William Salt Library Trust added: “The Trustees are delighted by the National Lottery Heritage Fund’s generous grant towards the creation of the Staffordshire History Centre.
“The project will see the development of a fascinating new town centre attraction, preserves and creates a new future for our much loved historic building and will make our unique library collection better known and more widely available.”
The total cost of the project is £7.1m with match funding of £3.184m already raised by the partnership including Staffordshire County Council funding, grants, donations from local organisations and Friends, and in-kind contributions from volunteers.
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Development phase update - 6 August 2020
The Archive and Heritage Service started work on the new development phase for the Staffordshire History Centre project in January. The project paused initially when the service was suspended during lockdown. The team soon adapted the planned work to the new digital and working from home environment.
The key areas of work are:
- new audience research to analyse current membership and users of the service
- consultation with new and potential users of the service
- review and further consultation with schools to support the learning programme
- cataloguing and preservation work on the William Salt Library collection in preparation for relocation.
The Audience Agency were appointed to complete the audience research and consultation with new and potential users of the service. They have done this by analysing information about users registered to use Staffordshire Record Office and William Salt Library. They have also looked at existing use of the service website and social media. This has helped confirm who currently uses the service, their age range, areas they travel from, and types of user.
Consultation with new and potential service users
In June 2020 an online survey was launched to gather responses about the current and potential use of the service. It asked for views on the service websites, visiting the record office, William Salt Library and touring exhibitions. They survey also asked if respondents were interested in taking part in a focus group.
Over 440 people responded to the survey and two online focus groups have been delivered selecting current users and non-users of the service. The Audience Agency research report has just been shared with the team and is helping them to refine the activities for the History Centre and also gain feedback on proposals for the new build elements and exhibition space. Further work is planned to develop a marketing strategy which will raise awareness of the History Centre including the activities which will be delivered.
We are grateful to everyone who took part in the survey and focus groups.
Consultation with teachers
A consultant was also appointed to review previous learning work that was developed. A teacher survey was delivered receiving a good number of responses. Due to the closure of schools pilot activities were created to be delivered online. The team are awaiting the final report to enable them to refine this area of the project.
Cataloguing work at the William Salt Library
Cataloguing work had started at the William Salt Library with preservation work delivered by a small group of keen volunteers. This paused during lockdown although the cataloguing has resumed now that the staff are able to work onsite again. Sadly it will not be possible to bring the volunteers back into the building but we are looking at seconding a member of staff to take on this work instead.
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