A home for history: Sneak preview of Brighton and Hove's new £19 million Keep archive

By Duncan Andrews | 10 June 2013

Opening: The Keep, Brighton, opens November 2013

A photo of white shelves inside a large archive building
© Duncan Andrews
Built at a cost of £19 million, The Keep will be the new home of the story of Brighton, Hove and East Sussex, allowing the public to discover local history near the University of Sussex and the University of Brighton’s Falmer campuses.

It brings together archival collections from the East Sussex County Record Office, Brighton and Hove City Council and the University of Sussex Special Collections, including the internationally renowned Mass Observation Archive and the Sussex Family History Group.

Construction work began in October 2011 and, after nearly two years of construction, the building has been handed over to archivists ahead of a public opening in November.

The cost of the building has been split between the local authorities, dependent on the amount of floor space each occupies. The University of Sussex has also contributed £1 million and the Sussex Family History Group will be renting partners.

The completed centre for archives will hold a detailed record of 900 years of history, designed for a variety of people to use in different ways.

Throughout the planning and building stages The Keep has obviously been built with a commitment to inclusivity.

Free public access to collections will give scholars, educational institutes and businesses more opportunities to see the material, and a programme of activities for volunteers, communities and educational bodies will also teach conservation and digitalisation methods, with a new online catalogue allowing users to search the collections remotely, providing comprehensive access by combining all the collections in an easily searchable database.

The catalogue will let users book and reserve items to view or digitise when they visit, instantly connecting with the past both physically and digitally.

The Keep represents a great step forward for East Sussex and archival buildings across the UK, complying with the Archives for the 21st Century governmental archive policy.

It is divided into two distinct areas. The People Block will allow pre-booked access to collections and study areas for 270 visitors and staff. Computer terminals, microfilm readers, a public facilities area and a multi-function room are available for community events, and a trio of linked classroom spaces let users interact creatively with the archives.

Working in partnership to create a centralised archive space opens up the collections to new audiences. The Keep will allow trained staff members and volunteers designated space and appropriate technological tools to improve the conservation and digitisation of the collections - these include a conservation workshop and digitisation suite.

The Repository Block contains ten miles of shelving space, six miles of which will be used to store existing archives over three floors. The final four miles of shelving will potentially take up to 20 years to fill, with a designated area at the back of the building for future expansion.

The number of visitors to the individual archives being replaced is expected to rise by a quarter, with 16,000 guests expected during the first year and as many as 20,000 paying a visit within five years.

More pictures:

A photo of a wooden sign which says the keep
© Duncan Andrews
A photo of a set of white shelves inside an archive building
© Duncan Andrews
A photo of the inside of a large archive building
© Duncan Andrews
A photo of a series of chairs and computers inside an archive building
© Duncan Andrews
Follow Duncan Andrews on Twitter @DuncanAndrews.
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