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Wednesday 6 September 2017

Cheshire East set to get state-of-the-art history centre

Cheshire East looks set to be the location of a new state-of-the art history centre to host the region’s archive.

Cheshire Archives and Local Studies, a shared service of Cheshire East Council and Cheshire West and Chester Council (CWaC), needs a new home as its current one in Duke Street, Chester, is no longer fit for purpose.

Under proposals due for consideration by both authorities’ cabinets next week, the archive would be rehoused in two new bespoke history centres – one in Crewe and one in Chester.

These would be climate-controlled environments to house the collections, better display them and make them more interactive and accessible to the public.

The archive ranges from the middle ages to the present day and includes 8km of archives from businesses, schools, hospitals and local clubs and organisations. In addition, it has tens of thousands of photographs, maps and books covering all aspects of Cheshire’s history.

The £13m joint scheme, if approved, would see each authority contribute £4.2m each with the remainder of the money being sought via a bid for a Heritage Lottery Fund grant. Crewe’s history centre would be located at the ‘Old Library’ site in the town centre. The proposed site for Chester’s new history centre is the former Business Enterprise site on Hoole Road.

Councillor David Brown, Cheshire East Council deputy leader and cabinet member responsible for archives, said: “The cabinets will hear a proposal to replace the current facility, which is no longer suitable for the long term preservation of the unique archives, with two new history centres in Chester and Crewe as part of an improved, single, joint archive service.

“This proposal is really exciting and the centre in Crewe would make our unique, precious and richly-diverse archives far more accessible for Cheshire East residents and visitors alike – and would help attract many more visitors to the town centre. 

“It would also provide a suitable focus for our extensive railway and engineering archives – which are a nationally significant collection and uniquely central to the story of Crewe as a town.

“These are exciting times for Crewe – with an HS2 hub station coming and the council

working with partners to deliver an impressive £48.3m investment in regeneration, including the redevelopment of the Royal Arcade site, refurbishment of the Market Hall and improved public realm.

“A history centre for Crewe would be a key catalyst for revitalising the town and its local economy and creating a quality of place that the people of Crewe can be really proud of.”

Under the proposals the new centres would incorporate facilities for exhibitions, events, research and more space for volunteers, while also allowing for the better preservation of the county’s rich written heritage. The proposal also sees the service developing plans to make the archives more accessible throughout the county through an expanded outreach programme and digital access.

The Crewe history centre would specifically reflect the story and heritage of the communities of Cheshire East. This would include:

● A large gallery space to host cultural exhibitions of regional and national interest, workshops and talks;

● Railway/engineering archives for Crewe and the local region;

● Access to film and sound archives;

● Local newspapers and photographs;

● Supervised access to archive materials not on display; and

● A potential home for the Family History Society of Cheshire, with access to its genealogical resources and expertise.

Councillor Louise Gittins, Cheshire West and Chester Council cabinet member for communities and wellbeing, said: “Currently the archives service helps over a million people each year, through visits to the record office, outreach events, support for community history projects, services in libraries and through its websites.

“The new proposals will protect our irreplaceable heritage for future generations, whilst also making them more accessible.”

The decisions will be taken at a meeting of Cheshire East Council’s cabinet on September 12 and by CWaC on September 13.

Subject to funding, the proposed new facilities would open by 2023.

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