How do you go about preserving nine hundred years of Sussex history?
That’s the exciting task given to Elizabeth Hughes who is head of the new £19 million development called ‘The Keep’ which is busily preparing to officially open its doors to locals and historians on Tuesday the 19th of November.
The Keep aims to provide the Sussex community with a high quality resource centre containing over 900 years of archive material including diaries, maps and pictures. The documents being stored have come from various locations across Sussex. “They’re coming in from the East Sussex Record Office which used to be in Lewes, the Royal Pavilion local studies and one is from the University of Sussex special collections.” as Elizabeth Hughes explained.
The collection of documents covers a breadth of areas which includes “school admission registers, diaries and records of hospitals details’. As a local source for information, Elizabeth Hughes explained that they welcome material from anyone-providing it has a Sussex connection. “We welcome things from ordinary individuals such as letters and diaries. We don’t necessarily have to keep them. People can give us ownership and loan them to us”.
The building welcomes school children and university groups and aims to aid learning here in Sussex. There are three specialised learning environments, which can adapt depending on the size of a class. The Keep has ascertained funding from the local lottery funded heritage to create a project called ‘History on your doorstep’. Elizabeth Hughes says the project will “allow the local schools to look into how archives can help educate children in the local area”.
With so many documents, security for Elizabeth Hughes’ team is pivotal to ensure that the archive material can remain safe and secure. “We have strong rooms and they’re really thick. If you walk around the outside of the building you’ll see a white section and then a creamy coloured section and that is where the archive materials are situated. We have a cut off where the public can’t go.”
There are also measures to ensure that the documents are kept in good condition, one of these being strict temperature control within the strong room, which allows the quality of the archive material to be preserved.
The Queen officially opened the Keep as she took a tour of the building at the end of last month. Elizabeth Hughes had the honour of showing her majesty the facilities. “It was amazing. It was a great show. But it was a slight embarrassment that we were both wearing the same coloured jacket.” She described the Queen and the Duke as welcoming towards the public not shying away from conversation or questions that were posed to them. “They were very pleased to see the local school children as well”.
The Keep welcomes volunteers to help with the upkeep of the building. “We are encouraging volunteers in all aspects of the building. From front of house to looking after the documents.” They also have employed staff from the three previous centres, which have now merged into The Keep. “We employ people called archivists. There are the equivalent of librarians but also have a qualification in archiving. Front of house staff have an interest in local and family history and are very much people people”.
The Keep is also embracing the digital era. Although there are many hard copies of documents and archive material the centre has facilities for digital technology and as a result some of the archive material is in a digital format.
There is also a digital touch screen map, which allows visitors to see the Sussex landscape in it’s current and previous forms. They have also purchased a photocopier that allows pages from books to be photocopied without ruing the quality of the book.
Locals are looking forward to the opening. David Nash, professor of Physical Geography at Sussex University has tweeted: “The Keep, the new document repository for Brighton & E Sussex will be an amazing resource for environmental history. Can’t wait to visit!”
While Lily Pritchard, a student, “As a resident studying in Sussex I often need reliable sources for my projects and I feel that The Keep can help aid this need and help me to advance in my course.”
Elizabeth Hughes described the opening as “an exciting challenge” ahead of tomorrow’s launch event.
There is no doubt that 900 years of history will offer residents of Sussex a chance to look back at the county’s past and discover more about the local community. Meanwhile ‘The Keep’ will look forward to preserving history for many years to come as it ensures that years of Sussex heritage is kept for everyone to enjoy.
For those wishing to visit The Keep it is open Tuesday to Saturday and sits adjacent to the A27 and just a ten minute walk from Falmer train station.
The Keeps official website.
In pictures: our visit to The Keep.
By James Dunham and Charlotte Scott