Opinion: Holding on to Suffolk’s History for many years to come


By Paul West, Cabinet Member for Ipswich, Communities and Waste.

Paul WestLike many, I have been inspired by the BBC programme ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ to research my family history. Would I have the same good fortune as EastEnders’ Danny Dyer, who visited the previous home of his ancestors at Helmingham Hall, where it was revealed he was related to royalty? Or perhaps I’d discover a secret family talent, like actor Warwick Davis who learnt that his great-great-grandfather Dennis Manning was a violinist at the iconic Athenaeum in Bury St Edmunds.

Sadly, links to royalty and fame eluded my family tree. However, I did find out that in the late 1930s my maternal grandmother was a foster mother for orphans of sailors at Newland Orphan Home in Hull. As coincidence would have it this was on a site next to where my wife went to university some sixty years later!

Researching my past encouraged me to think more about the legacy I’d leave behind. Whilst our generation is fortunate enough to be able to document our daily lives digitally, there’s no guarantee that today’s social media providers will stand the test of time, or that there won’t be other circumstances which render digital records inaccessible.

That’s why it’s more important than ever that even in this digital age we still preserve physical records of the past, which The Hold will allow us to do. I’m delighted with the progress which has been made to the site so far, which I got to see first-hand when I donned a hard hat, high-vis jacket and boots and visited with some of our partners and the press last Tuesday.

So much has changed since our time capsule burial there just over six months ago. At that stage the groundworks and foundation had been completed but the steel frame was only just beginning to go up. Now the shape of the building is becoming clear, as is its purpose. Whilst The Hold is primarily a record storing facility, it has so much more to offer. It will be a completely accessible space, once through its front doors there’s no need for visitors to use steps or lifts.

It will also be one of only two ‘changing places’ in Ipswich’s town centre, offering accessible toilets which also incorporate a shower and a hoist. This is just the start of an impressive array of facilities in the space. There will be a dedicated exhibition space which will host four specially curated exhibitions per year, to encourage both young and old to interact with Suffolk’s culture and history. Most of these exhibitions will be replicated at our Bury St Edmunds and Lowestoft Record Offices, but with a local twist to ensure that the whole county gets involved. The first exhibition will be hosted in May and we have something very exciting lined up, but – watch this space - I can’t reveal what that is just yet…

Exhibitions make up just a small portion of events that will be held in the building. A 200-seat tiered auditorium will primarily be used by the University of Suffolk but will also host conferences and talks by archivists. There is no other auditorium space with this capacity in Ipswich and it’s hoped that it can also be used by the wider community.

Another first, not just for Ipswich but for the whole of the county is The Hold’s thermal mass maintained strong room. This record storage facility spans an impressive 1650 cubic metres, spread over three floors. It will have enough space to store the records we currently hold in Suffolk and should also comfortably house further records for the next twenty years. Whereas many storage facilities rely on costly air conditioning systems to ensure records are stored at optimum temperatures, the design and construction of The Hold has resulted in it being able to maintain this with minimal intervention. Not only will this save money, but it also helps work towards our goal of being the Greenest County.

It has already been demonstrated to be incredibly effective too, as initial readings show air permeability test results of 0.18 @ 50 Pascal (50 N/m2). This is a real achievement as it was one of the lowest readings that has ever been recorded and shows that the strong room’s air leakage is well within the required standard of 0.5.

Despite the positive readings so far, the last thing we’d ever want to do is put our records at risk, which is why there’ll be rigorous dummy testing and a requirement of stable readings for at least eight weeks prior to the real records being stored. Once safely housed, we’ll want to ensure there are no new records which pose any danger to those already archived. That’s why the site incorporates a rather excitingly named ‘Quarantine Room’ where new records can be treated for insects, mould and any other conditions which could spread to existing collections.

This means we’ll not only be able to delve into our past but can also preserve our present for many years to come. I hope that if you’re interested in learning more about your roots, you’ll pay The Hold a visit when it opens at Easter 2020. I’ve no doubt that this wonderful building will put not only Ipswich but the whole of our county on the map for many years to come.