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BHC and The Keep

by David Fisher 7 January 2010

The more I go into this, the less sense it all makes. To recap: The Keep is a joint scheme for a historical resource centre to be built at Falmer to house the archives of ESCC and B&HCC, the Special Collections of Sussex Uni and the collection of the Sussex Family History Group.

I now have a copy of the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) minutes (16 December 2008) when the HLF turned down a funding application for the Keep of £4.9m–said to be 21 per cent of eligible costs, which put the total cost at £23.3m. According to the HLF minutes, the board rejected the application because of competition for funds, although it considered the project a high priority for support. This was because the National Archives’ assessment is that the storage facilities at East Sussex Records Office (ESRO) put the collection ‘at risk’. I have asked the National Archives if a similar assessment has been done of the BHC and await a reply.

The current total of the scaled back version of The Keep project is £19m: ESCC £12.5m, B&HCC £5.3m and university £1.1m. Storage capacity must meet established criteria, so cuts have already been made to the provision for public access since the HLF rejection.

BHC was created seven years ago as part of the £10m refurbishment of the museum that took two and a half years; £7.6m came from the HLF. The B&H Museums’ own website describes the BHC as ‘a unique one stop shop for information on local history and all of Brighton & Hove’s Museums and Libraries’ collections’. If the BHC is so good and ESRO isn’t, The Keep will obviously benefit ESRO but not so the BHC, which is purpose-built and could serve that purpose well for many years to come.

What is the logic of merging? From this city’s perspective, ESRO houses many of the archives that relate to Brighton & Hove before the creation of the unitary authority. And there could be economies of scale, perhaps. But in that case, why not merge all the archives and move them to Kew?

Shouldn’t local archives be local? At least Lewes is the county town, albeit not centrally located. What do the residents of Hastings and Rye think about their county archives moving to Falmer? Would the residents of Brighton want to undertake a two or three hour round trip to see the city’s archives? This suggests that on balance retaining the BHC and forgetting about The Keep would save Brighton council tax payers far more money than the £60,000 saving from closing the BHC–which seems to come entirely from the salaries of the archivists–and with no significant loss, even in the longer term.

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