Plans to transform the way in which Cheshire’s archives are accessed and ensure they are preserved for future generations have taken a major leap forward following the go ahead from The National Lottery Heritage Fund.
Cheshire Archives and Local Studies, a shared service of Cheshire East and Cheshire West and Chester Councils looks after the county’s unique and irreplaceable written and pictorial history and is driving forward plans to rehouse the archives in two new state-of-the-art history centres.
Today, it can be announced that The National Lottery Heritage Fund has agreed to provide funding to contribute towards the delivery of the new facilities in Chester and Crewe, which will replace the Cheshire Record Office, in Chester, and allow the service to better protect and share the historic records.
Planning applications for the two centres were recently submitted and decisions on the plans are expected to be made before spring.
If they are approved, the grant from the Heritage Fund of £4.45m, which has been made possible through money raised by National Lottery players, would allow for construction of the centres to go ahead.
The project, called ‘Cheshire’s archives: a story shared’, would transform the way the archives service works and give local people greater access to the collections and opportunities to interact with them more easily helping them to celebrate their personal and communities’ histories.
There would also be an improved outreach and digital programme to extend access to the archives across Cheshire and further afield, better spaces for staff and volunteers to work with the collections, more spaces for research, performances and exhibitions, and opportunities to develop and exchange skills.
Councillor Louise Gittins, Leader of Cheshire West and Chester Council said, “This is fantastic news. Chester has proudly hosted the archive services for 70 years, but our current location is no longer able to meet the expectation and requirements of the many people who access this service.
“The new site will help us to revolutionise access to a wider audience and protect the collection for future generations.”
Councillor Jill Rhodes, lead for archives at Cheshire East Council, said, “Cheshire’s archive collections date back more than 900 years and represent a unique and irreplaceable part of the county’s heritage, coming from all walks of life including businesses, schools, hospitals and local clubs and organisations.
“This funding decision from The National Lottery Heritage Fund is a significant step towards being able to deliver two fantastic new facilities that will ensure the archives’ long-term preservation, open them up to a whole new audience and allow them to be used in a way that has not been possible previously.”
Locations for the centres have been identified at the site of the former Enterprise Centre, Hoole Road, Chester, and the site of Crewe’s former library, next to Memorial Square.
Subject to planning permission, work to build the centres is currently expected to begin in autumn 2023 and finish in winter 2025.
Anne Jenkins, executive director, business delivery at The National Lottery Heritage Fund, said, “We are delighted that our funding means that the ‘Cheshire archives: a story shared’ is a step closer to becoming reality.
“This important project will open up the fascinating collections that are held in the archives to a host of new audiences and ensure that local communities can explore the heritage that matters the most to them.
“The two new history centres will be exciting new additions to the heritage landscape of Cheshire, and we’re excited to see the project progress.”
The funding from the Heritage Fund not only contributes towards the new facilities but will help the service to fund a programme of new activities across the county until March 2027.
During the project’s development to date, Cheshire Archives have used new and creative approaches to engaging people with the collections.
One example was the team’s work with theatre chef Leo Burtin, who previously worked on events and food-based programmes with Manchester Jewish Museum.
The team drew on historic recipes from Cheshire’s archives, which dated back to the 18th century and included a hearty mushroom ragu and a berry syrup, and Leo hosted a live, digital ‘cookalong’ where he shared the histories of these recipes and people discussed the health benefits of different types of foods.
Of those who took part, 83 percent had not engaged with the archives before, and it gave the team important experience of running and promoting live-streamed events for its future events programme.
Image: Chester History Centre artists impression