The East Sussex Record Office was created in 1949. First based at the Maltings, in Lewes, it has been moved to a new building, at Falmer. ‘The Keep’ will be a world class centre for archives that opens up access to all the collections of the County records, the Royal Pavilion & Museums local history archives and audio collection and the internationally significant University of Sussex Special Collections. It will be a ‘Centre of Excellence’ for conservation and preservation and will represent the next generation of archive buildings in the UK. The Keep will also house the Sussex Family History Group library and headquarters, and the Historic Environment Record database, which records sites and finds from early prehistory to 20th century monuments.
The combined collections will provide an unrivalled record of the region’s history, dating back over 900 years, for local, national and international visitors, together with the University of Sussex’s Special Collections of 20th and 21st century literary, political and social history archives. There will be a single, online catalogue bringing together the collections of all the partners with full on-line functionality through the Keep’s new, user-friendly website at www.thekeep.info, which will give remote access to a wealth of material in the collections.
The construction of The Keep separates architecturally the block for document storage (Repository Block) from the block where visitors and staff will study and work (People Block), whilst maintaining a holistic design solution. At the entrance to The Keep a large ‘blank canvas’ wall can be used for projections and other large scale two-dimensional displays, to celebrate the work within. A commissioned frieze by artist Carolyn Trant, featuring images inspired by the collections and the East Sussex landscape, wraps around the upper part of the two blocks. The Keep has been designed to be robust, long lasting, fire resistant, easily maintained and sustainable. It will have as low a carbon “footprint” as is possible and will be the most sustainable archive building of its type in the country.
The Repository Block will house over six miles of archives in three storeys, with space for future collections: the temperature and humidity will be carefully controlled to preserve the collections perfectly. The Public Search Rooms on the Ground Floor of the People Block include two Reading Rooms for up to 115 people to use computers, microfilms, reference books and original documents, and a Group Research Area. There are three linked Learning and Multifunction Rooms for school classes, student groups and adult learners to engage in interactive and creative learning with archives. These rooms can also be opened out into one large space to host a wide range of community activities including lectures, workshops, events and receptions for up to 150 people. The Staff Facilities are situated on the Second Floor, and include a Conservation Workshop and Digitisation Suite. There is also space for volunteers, students and community groups to work with staff and learn new skills to help preserve the archives.Volunteering has played a key role in preparing the move of collections. It was an ongoing work for several years repackaging the archives in boxes and referencing them by barcodes, to be linked to a computerized database. This process meant to review the cataloging created over 60 years of collecting.
Launched in June 2013, the move is now completed for opening to the public on November 19, after a royal inauguration in the presence of Queen Elizabeth II and Duke of Edinburgh on 31 October. 16,000 visitors are expected for the first year.
The Keep is easily accessible by public transport and there is ample parking for cars, motorcycles and bicycles. It will be a beacon for access within the heritage sector, and is exemplary regarding commitment to access for disabled people.