£35mplan­to­build­home for pre­cious arte­facts

Hinckley Times - - NEWS - DAN MARTIN hinck­ley­times@reach­plc.com

A £35 mil­lion com­plex to house over one mil­lion mu­seum arte­facts could be built at Le­ices­ter­shire County Coun­cil’s head­quar­ters.

Of­fi­cials at County Hall have drawn up a se­ries of op­tions look­ing at how to man­age the mas­sive col­lec­tion of items and records in the fu­ture.

The move would see the ex­ist­ing records of­fice in Wigston, as well as large stor­age sites in Lut­ter­worth, Bar­row and Coalville, closed and sold off.

The coun­cil says it wants to cen­tralise its hold­ings of col­lec­tions which in­clude pieces re­lat­ing to fash­ion and de­sign, art, na­tional his­tory, home and fam­ily life.

It in­cludes the only sur­viv­ing let­ter from Le­ices­ter-born Joseph Mer­rick, known as the Ele­phant Man, unique records doc­u­ment­ing the Suf­fragette move­ment and the in­ter­na­tion­ally im­por­tant Syming­ton col­lec­tion of corsetry and swimwear.

The coun­cil says devel­op­ing a ‘col­lec­tions hub’ would im­prove pub­lic ac­cess to the items on the col­lec­tion most of which are kept un­der lock and key for lack of stor­age space.

It also says it would cre­ate a more se­cure and mod­ern place to hold and dis­play pieces.

There are two op­tions for the de­vel­op­ment at County Hall.

The £35mil­lion plan is to build an en­tirely new cen­tre on county coun­cil land to the west of ex­ist­ing of­fices.

Of­fi­cials say it would “rep­re­sent a strong archival state­ment” but would go ahead only if a “sig­nif­i­cant” share of the cost could be met from na­tional or­gan­i­sa­tions and other bene­fac­tors.

Dis­cus­sions have been held with city mayor Sir Peter Soulsby about whether Le­ices­ter City Coun­cil could con­trib­ute.

A sec­ond op­tion, cheaper at £17mil­lion, would in­volve mov­ing the items into County Hall’s eastern an­nexe.

The of­fices, for­merly used by pub­lic sec­tor pur­chas­ing or­gan­i­sa­tion ESPO, would need ma­jor re­fur­bish­ment which would be funded largely by the county coun­cil.

Both th­ese op­tions would save the coun­cil £350,000 a year in staffing costs and the ex­pense of run­ning the build­ings that have been ear­marked for clo­sure.

The coun­cil has looked at ex­pand­ing the records of­fice in Long Street, Wigston, to pro­vide an ex­tra 20 years of doc­u­ment stor­age space.

This would cost £5 mil­lion and would not ad­dress the is­sue of what to do with the mu­seum’s col­lec­tion space.

Tory county coun­cil leader Nick Rush­ton, said: “Th­ese am­bi­tious plans are an op­por­tu­nity to put our unique and im­por­tant col­lec­tions on the map.

“By hous­ing a range of items together in one place – in a more mod­ern, se­cure and ac­ces­si­ble lo­ca­tion – we want to make it eas­ier for more peo­ple to learn about the area’s rich past.”

Cabi­net mem­ber for adults and com­mu­ni­ties Coun Richard Blunt said: “Th­ese ar­chives and col­lec­tions tell Le­ices­ter­shire’s story, and in­clude unique, orig­i­nal records doc­u­ment­ing key pe­ri­ods in his­tory.

“Clearly there’s an up­front cost – and the new-build op­tion is con­tin­gent on lev­er­ing ex­ter­nal fund­ing.

“But stor­age space is run­ning out at the record of­fice and coun­cils are re­quired by law to run an archive and record-keep­ing ser­vice.

“That’s why we need to take ac­tion to pre­serve Le­ices­ter­shire’s her­itage for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.”

County Hall’s Labour group op­po­si­tion leader Dr Terri Eynon said: “The first thing mem­bers of the pub­lic will think about this is “£35 mil­lion? Why so much?”

“Of course we had a big old shed in Coalville at Snib­ston, which was de­signed to hold mu­seum col­lec­tions and the coun­cil rushed to close it down and de­mol­ish it.

“It might have been a ready­made so­lu­tion to the prob­lem they now need to solve at some con­sid­er­able ex­pense.”

Ele­phant Man Joseph Mer­rick

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