The future of Suffolk's heritage services

The council is working towards a vision to share and create a critical mass of heritage resources across Suffolk.

The Heritage programme has developed under four main projects:-

• Heritage Services Development

• Heritage Facility Development

• Digitisation of Suffolk’s heritage collections

• Archaeology review

Heritage Service Development – Suffolk Heritage Strategy

The Suffolk Strategic Heritage Forum has been established as a non-statutory and non-executive group that brings together heritage sector partners with a purpose of closer coordination across initiatives and services, working together without duplication and achieving common priorities. It was launched in January 2013 and meets on a quarterly basis.

The membership includes representatives from all district and borough councils, the Ipswich and St Edmundsbury Diocese, the Museum of East Anglian Life, University Campus Suffolk, Colchester and Ipswich Museum Service, Suffolk Local History Council, Suffolk Family History Society, Friends of the Suffolk Record Office, Suffolk Records Society, the National Horseracing Museum, National Trust, Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and History, Association for Suffolk Museums, Suffolk County Council, Ipswich Heritage Forum, The National Archives, The Bury Society and English Heritage. Its membership will be reviewed annually to ensure it continues to reflect its aims and the issues it is addressing. The terms of reference for the forum are essentially seen as:-

• overseeing the development, implementation and monitoring of a Suffolk Heritage Strategy which protects and preserves Suffolk’s heritage offer for the future;

• promoting and raising the profile of Suffolk’s heritage;

• identifying areas in service provision which would benefit from a joined-up approach and working to enhance and extend existing successful services and initiatives.

A Suffolk Heritage Strategy (Feb 2014), driven by the Forum, describing Suffolk’s heritage sector and vision for the future, can be viewed at Scrutiny Committee minutes, 12 March 2014 Agenda item 5, evidence set 1, appendix 1

It provides a framework for heritage development in Suffolk with three key priority themes identified for development:

• Identity, Economy and Tourism: creating a higher profile for heritage, more joint working, and maximising the local economic impact of the sector.

• Community engagement and learning: maximising the role of heritage in supporting research, education, training, lifelong learning and community well-being.

• Heritage protection and enhancement: protecting, preserving, enhancing and managing Suffolk’s rich heritage assets.

Each organisation on receiving the final version of this strategy, will be seeking endorsement from their governing body or committees. Activity plans for each theme of the strategy will be developed with the Forum’s input during 2014.

Heritage Facility Development

Options for an enhanced Suffolk Record Office service were considered at Suffolk County Council’s Cabinet meeting on 1st July 2014 as part of a longer term strategy for preserving, collecting and providing access to the recorded history of the County. Each of the options presented addresses the projected shortfall in storage capacity within the current record office buildings. In addition, they shape the way for further heritage services collaboration through shared working with University Campus Suffolk. The papers can be viewed from this page Cabinet meeting papers, 1 July 2014

 Digitisation of Suffolk’s heritage collections

Council officers drafted a strategy for digitising the council’s collection of heritage artefacts, records, catalogues and finds which is available to download (232Kb, PDF). This was approved by a Cabinet meeting held on 16th October 2012 and included the approach to be taken for:

• prioritising which collections should be digitised

• how different categories of collections should be digitised (e.g. in-house, through an external funder, through joint partnerships or through a commercial partner)

• replacing the current portal ‘Suffolk Heritage Direct’ with a new website that can meet modern expectations from the public

The strategy recommended releasing capacity for doing digitisation work. Suffolk County Council consulted users and stakeholders from 10th March-14th April 2014 on proposals to adjust opening hours and was delighted with the quality and quantity of responses (533) received which demonstrated the interest of users, owners of archives, partners and stakeholders in the future of Suffolk Record Office. The majority of those who responded felt the proposals would bring positive improvement (65.5%). They supported closing one day a week to free resources to improve the online accessibility of catalogue information and digitised materials, welcomed the improved Saturday offer and had no overall objections. The figures indicate that only a small number (28) would experience problems with closing on a Wednesday to refocus resources on modernising the service enabling many more people to make use of and enjoy our collections. Respondees also supported the proposal to open later, although some felt not opening until 10.00 was too late and suggested closing earlier as an alternative. We listened to their ideas and will therefore be looking to implement opening each branch of the Suffolk Record Office for 35hrs a week from 9.30-16.30, Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Record Office staff were consulted during July and we anticipate changing to these opening hours by 1st October. This includes reintroducing a full archives production service on Saturdays.

Work has started on developing a business case and five-year action plan for digitising heritage collections in line with the digitisation strategy. A specialist digitisation company has been commissioned to digitise over 2000 archaeological reports held in the HER, as the first phase of digitisation of the archaeological collections. Over 300 Suffolk School Admission Registers are being digitised as part of a National Digitisation Consortium made up of 100 local authority record offices, led by the Archives and Records Association UK & Ireland.

County Council officers will be supported by experienced and skilled professionals in their research, options appraisal and the shaping and writing of the business case for the new digital platform and services. It will have a tested on-line search function and a range of commercial, social media and direct service functions that will help to future-proof the site in relation to anticipated technological improvements. The commissioning and procurement timetable should enable the new website to support the digital strategy by the end of 2015.

Archaeology Review

The Archaeological Service was split into two teams under separate management, Conservation and Contracting, in November 2012. A lean review of processes was undertaken for the Conservation Team in May 2013. Following the review, various recommendations have been instigated to make business processes more efficient and effective.


2014 - Scrutiny Committee Meeting

The Heritage Programme was reviewed at Suffolk County Council's Scrutiny Committee meeting on 12 March 2014. The papers provide an update on the Archaeology Service, the Suffolk Heritage Forum and Strategy, the digitisation of heritage collections and Suffolk Record Office storage. The papers can be viewed from this page Scrutiny Committee minutes, 12 March 2014

Heritage Centre Update 5 December 2013

Following careful investigation and given the significant financial challenges the county council is currently facing, the provision of a new Heritage Centre for Suffolk was not considered a viable option at this point. For further information see the press release.

2013 – Scrutiny Committee

Progress with the Heritage Programme was considered at the Scrutiny Committee meeting of 26th September 2013. The papers can be viewed from this page Scrutiny Committee minutes, 26 September 2013

2012 - Scrutiny Committee and Cabinet Meetings

On 16th October 2012 Cabinet considered a report on providing a sustainable long-term solution for the county’s heritage services, and the draft recommendations of 27th September’s Scrutiny Committee. The report and associated appendices can be viewed here Cabinet minutes, 16 October 2012

2012 Heritage Consultation and earlier updates

Public consultation on the creation of a new independent heritage organisation closed on 8th February 2012. A total of 882 responses were received; of these over 700 were individual respondents, 127 were responses on behalf of organisations and key stakeholders and 24 were formal written responses.

The main purpose of the consultation was to seek your views on the proposal to create a new heritage organisation for Suffolk, in partnership with the Museum of East Anglian Life and to determine whether you supported further work being undertaken in relation to building a new heritage centre for Suffolk. Additionally, the council also sought to determine current levels of demand on existing archaeology and archive services; how you access these services and what you felt these services should provide in the future.

What you told us

• You are in favour of the creation of a new heritage organisation and for further work to be carried out in relation to building a new Suffolk heritage centre.

• You have concerns around the location of any new centre, a potential reduction in access to heritage collections in the future and the potential impact on travel in the event that your local record office was closed.

• There is a strong demand for further digitisation of catalogues and also the digitisation of collections, artefacts, finds, objects and records, but not at the loss of access to the original artefacts/records.

• There is a strong desire to maintain the high quality of services provided by both the council’s archaeology and archive services and we should consider developing an alternative option for consultation in the event that the proposal to create a new heritage trust is unachievable.

• The council should ensure that there is no reduction in quality of service or a loss of specialist knowledge and skills in either of these services.

• A large proportion of those who responded access heritage information at home (89.1%) with 58.2% stating that they use the council’s website to access Suffolk’s heritage services. Other main websites used to access this information include The National Archives and English Heritage.