Keeping the region’s records safe at the new East Sussex County Record Office

Wendy Walker, Programme Manager for The Keep, examining an 18th century account book for the Wealden Iron Industry, by the mobile racking in The Keep's Repository Block.'Picture by Jim Holden 07590 683036
Wendy Walker, Programme Manager for The Keep, examining an 18th century account book for the Wealden Iron Industry, by the mobile racking in The Keep's Repository Block.'Picture by Jim Holden 07590 683036
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The Keep, which is set to open to the public in November, will bring together archives from the East Sussex County Record Office, the Royal Pavilion & Museums local history archives and audio collection and the internationally significant University of Sussex Special Collections.

“With all these coming in to one space it will be a tremendous collection,” explained programme manager Wendy Walker.

Building nears completion at the new historical resource centre called The Keep in Brighton. The major partnership project is between East Sussex County Council, Brighton & Hove City Council and the University of Sussex. 'Picture by Jim Holden 07590 683036

Building nears completion at the new historical resource centre called The Keep in Brighton. The major partnership project is between East Sussex County Council, Brighton & Hove City Council and the University of Sussex. 'Picture by Jim Holden 07590 683036

“ We are BREEAM excellent, having as low a carbon footprint as possible, and are very pleased to have achieved that in an archive building.”

The new facility is located a short distance from the American Express Community Stadium in Woollards Field, Moulsecoomb, and has ample parking and is easily accessible via public transport.

Following almost two years of its construction by contractors Kier, the cost of the new building is split between the local authorities, dependent on how much floor space they are using, with approximately two-thirds of the building for East Sussex County Council and one third for Brighton and Hove City Council.

“If you look at what’s here I think that’s an incredible achievement to have this sort of building in that space of time,” continued Wendy.

“Archives aren’t the most obvious thing to raise publicity but one thing a new building does is that and we will start moving the archives in on June 17, which will take three months to move six miles of records from eight different locations.”

The barcoding of archives, which has been ongoing for 18 months, includes 85,000 containers from the Maltings in Lewes and will also house the archive for the Sussex Express.

The archives will be laid out upon 10 miles of shelving in the three repository rooms spread across three floors, each with closely controlled air temperature and humidity which can be maintained for 24 hours in a power cut while the walls can withstand fire elsewhere in the building for up to four hours.

To access them, residents will have to apply for a readers’ card which will be valid for three years.

The public search rooms on the ground floor include an open reading room and reference library and there are discrete, sound-proofed areas including the groups research area, the oral history room, where staff can record memories of individuals, and the library and headquarters of the Sussex Family History Group.

Wendy added: “We have worked with a local access group to help with the lay out and we’ve had an access consultant involved with this project since 2004 to try and make sure we got it right for people of all abilities.”

The Keep’s complex plant room needed 3-D modelling before the 17 separate air units could be installed, with information on how green the building is displayed on a screen at the entrance alongside a bus timetable and, it is hoped, train times.

There is a cafe area, lockers, toilets and wheelchairs available if needed , with the building being manned by 19 full-time staff, volunteers and the intention to appoint a building manager and a part-time volunteer co-ordinator.

Outside, the entrance to The Keep is a large ‘blank canvas’ wall which can be used for projections and other large scale two-dimensional displays and around 800 new trees have been planted.

A commissioned frieze by artist Carolyn Trant, a pupil of Sussex artist Peggy Angus whose archives will be stored at The Keep, features images inspired by the collections and the East Sussex landscape and wraps around the upper part of the two blocks.

It is hoped that The Keep will attract 16,000 people in its first year rising to 20,000 annual visitors within five years.

A new electronic archive catalogue with a full on-line search facility will be available on The Keep’s website www.thekeep.info, due to go live later in the summer, and there will be digital resources in Lewes library for the duration of the move.

“Everything has it’s up and downs but most of it has been up ,” revealed Wendy, who trained as an archivist to read medieval Latin.

“I’ve had a fairly steep learning curve but it’s been fantastic, it really has. I think what we’ve achieved together stands for itself and shows what you can do if you all work together.”