Campaigners to meet with council as group step up fight to save record office
- Credit: Nick Butcher
Campaigners fighting to save Lowestoft's record office have agreed to meet with councillors as plans are put on hold.
The Save Our Record Office (SORO) group was formed following an announcement by Suffolk County Council which said the existing record office facility based at Lowestoft library would be replaced with an unmanned access point by the end of 2019. The decision would also see the documents currently stored there moved down to Ipswich.
Last week, 70 people attended a meeting at Stella Maris Hall to share their frustration and anger at the news, with many having gifted or loaned research, photos and other historical documents to the record office over the years.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.
Since then a SORO committee has been formed to step up the campaign and more than 2,000 signatures have been collected against the decision, with the Lowestoft Journal also giving its backing.
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And this week, the county council agreed to meet with SORO members and Waveney MP Peter Aldous to discuss the options before any action is taken.
Mrs Jackson said: 'We are pleased to get this news because it shows we are being listened to.
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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.
'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.'
The committee has agreed to the meeting subject to a few conditions, which include it being held in Lowestoft at a neutral venue and chaired by Mr Aldous.
Suffolk County Council's cabinet member for health, Tony Goldson, said they are listening to the concerns raised by local residents.
He said: 'We have decided to halt current plans whilst we meet with local groups and other interested parties to discuss options for the future of these services.
'We are in the process of arranging to meet with the Save Our Record Office group to discuss options for the development of record office services in Lowestoft.
'Our priority is to preserve Suffolk's archives in the best possible conditions for the use of current and future generations and working with local groups we hope to reach a solution which benefits all.'
Residents speaking at the meeting last Friday 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.'
A record office volunteer, who spoke at the meeting, 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.'
Anyone wishing to sign the petition online can visit www.change.org/p/tony-goldson-save-our-record-office. Hard copies of the petition are also available at the Lowestoft Journal office, 147 London Road North, Flint House Restaurant in High Street, The Coconut Loft in Waterloo Road and Beccles Books in Exchange Square, Beccles.
To keep up to date on the campaign, follow the Save Our Record Office Facebook page or email@example.com
Council's reasons for changes
Suffolk County Council said a decision had been taken to replace the record office following a decline in visitor numbers.
The council also said the service needed to be condensed in line with its objectives to fill a budget gap of £56m by 2021.
In a statement alongside the announcement on January 10, 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 new access point would include exhibitions on the history of Lowestoft, online catalogues and digitised images of original materials.
Plans for a new record 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.