Martin Taylor: Fewer, Bigger, Better – Hull History Centre

Martin acknowledged that this recommendation attracted the most comment. Many colleagues saw this as a threat to smaller local authority archive services. The service delivery model would rest on active partnership working.

Hull History Centre will be the end result of such a partnership. Hull has a great deal of civic pride as well as being identified as the worse place to live in the UK. Hull has many significant archival and local studies collections including Andrew Marvel’s correspondence, the literary archives of Philip Larkin and the Liberty Archive. All stored in buildings not fit for purpose in storage and access terms. The partnership was actually formed in 2000 and the history centre will actually open in 2010 – it is not a short process. Success rested upon:

Political Support: although there has been a shift in the political ruling party, there is general cross-party support for the project and has been driven forward by all ruling members. Member attitudes are crucial as mergers and partnership working can be contentious and need to be sold to the local electorate.

Senior Officer Vision: this was also vital. Lack of funding as well as chief officer support meant that the past problems were not addressed although identified by the then city archivist. The project could only move forward when senior officers had the will to act.

Partnership: the city council and university formed the partnership to develop the history centre although it was not the first time the two organisations had worked together – it was possible to build upon an existing relationship. The agreement said that the new centre will provide a seamless service to the public run by a management board. Running costs will be split and records will still  be deposited with the most appropriate partner. Staff will continue to be employed by their current organisation. The agreement is for 25 years but can be broken with two years notice on either side. The History Centre will have a separate visual identity to the parent organisations.

Advantages to the public will bring everything under one roof. There will be joint outreach services and it is possible to take advantage of economies of scale.

Beverley is nine miles form Hull and is home to the Treasure House an East Riding cultural partnership. Could Hull and Beverley have worked together? The two authorities have had a fraught relationship since about 1440 so would have been politically impossible ten years ago. Records are iconic and representative and moving them away from the locality would lead to an outcry.

A local politician is supposed to have said: “I’d rather see my records burn than let them go to Beverley”

Resources: current economic climate means that local government will face challenging times and the new service may face cuts immediately. The new building will be more expensive to run. The support of the constituent organisations and high profile make the History Centre a more robust service than it was before. The Olympics in 2012 will take funding away from cultural and heritage projects so capital funding may not be there in the future.

Martin hoped to welcome colleagues to the Hull History Centre in 2010.


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