Disappointment as council announces record office will be replaced with unmanned access point and town’s collection will be moved
- Credit: Nick Butcher
Changes are being made to a Lowestoft service which offers people the chance to delve into local history.
The record office, based in Lowestoft Library, houses records stretching back to the 12th century, including parish registers with information on Suffolk's baptisms, marriages and burials from 1550 onwards and copies of The Journal dating back to 1873.
But after a decline in visitors, a decision has been taken to replace the existing service with an unmanned access point by the end of 2019.
The service is being condensed in line with Suffolk County Council's objectives to fill a budget gap of £56m by 2021.
The new access point will include exhibitions on the history of Lowestoft, online catalogues and digitised images of original materials. However the collections currently housed in Lowestoft will be moved to Ipswich where they will remain under the care of the Suffolk Record Office.
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Peter Knight, deputy mayor of Lowestoft, said he was disappointed.
'The first thing that comes to mind is that Heritage England has recently labelled north Lowestoft as at risk and the history of Lowestoft as a whole is under-celebrated. The record office helps to address that so it's a real shame we will be losing physical access to all those documents.'
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Mr Knight hopes the county council makes a real effort to allow access online and also sets up a system where items can be loaned back to the town.
The county council said just 2,331 people visited the Lowestoft record office in the 2016/2017 financial year, compared with around 7,000 visitors 10 years ago.
Six members of staff currently run the service, and the county council was unable to say what would happen to their roles.
Suffolk county councillor Tony Goldson said: 'The way people access records is changing and there is a need for us to offer services which meet this new demand. Our office in Lowestoft currently holds only 8pc of the county's archive collections and contains fewer large nationally and internationally significant collections than other branches in Ipwich and Bury St Edmunds. This makes it impossible to justify spending the resources required in continuing to operate the service as it is.
'I hope that people will embrace this change and continue to enjoy accessing Lowestoft's rich heritage through the new access point.'
The location of the new access point in Lowestoft is still being considered.
Suffolk Record Office staff will visit the access point to work with members of the public, and local community groups to run events and activities.
To find out more, visit www.suffolkarchives.co.uk
The decision to replace the record office with an unmanned access point has caused anger among The Journal's Facebook followers.
One said: 'For a town where people are constantly talking about the need for regeneration and building a new future, it sends completely the opposite message and it's devastating news.
'I spend many Saturday afternoons in the Lowestoft Records Office and hoped to continue to be able to do so. Over the past few years I have become used to speaking with staff who are incredibly knowledgeable and vested in the history of Lowestoft and the surrounding rural parishes but, even more importantly than that, they are enthusiastic and helpful and they inspire the same passion in other people. What is going to happen to that when the collections move to Ipswich?' Another posted: 'To move Lowestoft related records to Ipswich is unacceptable. Could these not be kept in the town hall under the control of our town council or local museums?'
Another said: 'Public records are for the public surely the public get a vote as to what happens to them.'