Town vows to fight record office changes as community gathers to launch SORO campaign
- Credit: Nick Butcher
Residents and councillors have vowed to fight a decision which will see historic archives from Lowestoft and the surrounding area stripped from the town.
The first meeting of Save Our Record Office (SORO) was held today following an announcement last week which said the record office, currently housed in Lowestoft Library, will be replaced with an unmanned access point by the end of 2019. The decision would also see all of the documents currently stored there moved over to Ipswich.
Around 70 concerned residents, councillors and historians gathered at the Stella Maris Hall in Lowestoft to share their frustration and anger at the news, with many having gifted or loaned research, photos and other historical documents to the record office over the years.
The meeting was organised by SORO founders Trudie Jackson, a local historian who has been using the record office since it went into the library in 1985, and Janis Kirby, a volunteer at Lowestoft Museum and member of the Suffolk Family History Society.
Mrs Jackson said: 'We didn't think this was going to happen last Thursday when Janis and I said let's have a meeting in the library cafe and see what we can do to try and stop this happening. It's all snowballed from there and we've got a Facebook page set up and word of mouth has got round and it's wonderful to see so many people here and concerned about heritage in Lowestoft.
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'We've lost so much in Lowestoft and we need to get back in touch with our roots but we can't do that if our roots are being taken down to Ipswich.
'It's not easy for people to get down to Ipswich and it's not something we want to happen. We want to keep a centre here and we want to try to revive this town.
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'Heritage should be for the local community and this is for the whole of Waveney - for Beccles, Bungay, Halesworth and Southwold - and this part of Suffolk seems to get forgotten.'
Residents speaking at the meeting raised concerns about accessibility, with many unable to travel to Ipswich, the effect the move would have on tourism and whether items gifted to the record office to be enjoyed by Lowestoft residents would be returned when the changes are made.
David Butcher, a historian and author, said: 'Not only will this affect a vast number of people doing all kinds of personal, collaborative and group research, but it will close a facility which the town cannot afford to lose and place it somewhere which is relatively inaccessible for many of the people in Lowestoft. It's a no-brainer that it should be kept.'
Ros Golby, who volunteers at the record office, added: 'I'm worried that there's so much in the archives here that is not going to be digitalised or available to local people and it will go down to Ipswich and become irrelevant.'
Keith Patience, Suffolk county councillor for the Gunton ward and a Waveney district councillor, attended the meeting and gave his backing to the SORO campaign.
He was joined by members of Lowestoft Town Council, and a letter was read out from Waveney MP Peter Aldous calling for a consultation to be carried out before the decision is progressed.
Town councillor Alice Taylor said: 'We need to find out how much does it cost to run the record office and who owns what in the archives.
'People have donated stuff for the good of Lowestoft and for Lowestoft people to enjoy and maybe we should get it all back until we can work out what to do with it.'
A SORO committee will now be set up, with members of the public signing up following the meeting, to discuss the campaign's next steps.
Those present were also invited to fill in and take away petitions, with some now available at the Lowestoft Journal office in London Road North for readers to sign.
An online petition is also available at www.change.org/p/tony-goldson-save-our-record-office
To keep up to date on the campaign, follow the Save Our Record Office Facebook page or email@example.com
Council's reason for changes
Last week's announcement said a decision had been taken to replace the record office following a decline in visitor numbers.
Suffolk County Council also said the service needed to be condensed in line with its objectives to fill a budget gap of £56m by 2021.
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 Ipswich and Bury St Edmunds. This makes it impossible to justify spending the resources required in continuing to operate the service as it is.'
The council said the location of the new access point in Lowestoft is still being considered, but will include exhibitions on the history of Lowestoft, online catalogues and digitised images of original materials.
Plans for a new records office and heritage centre, called The Hold, have just been approved for Ipswich, with the £20m building offering a new home for the bulk of Suffolk's unique archival collections.