Study Day report — The Hold, 5th July 2022

On Tuesday 5th July the Federation was pleased to come to Suffolk to see the brand new The Hold centre for Suffolk Archives, an ambitious National Lottery Heritage Fund transformation project which opened in September 2021.The Hold is part of the wider Suffolk Archives network, with the sibling sites at Bury St Edmunds in the West and Lowestoft on the East Coast.

Located on Ipswich’s waterfront on the University of Suffolk campus, this new building now safely houses the bulk of Suffolk’s nationally and internationally significant archives. We were given an overview of the capital works from Emily Shepperson, Exhibitions and Interpretation Officer, who explained the need to move from the old archive site on the other side of Ipswich, as well as the ambition to enable more audiences to engage with the collections.

The extensive building work had been underway luckily before the main impact of Covid-19, however the planned fit out and opening had to be pushed back. Now The Hold offers a welcoming atmosphere with bright spaces, café and shop, new exhibition spaces for changing displays, education room, purpose-built strongrooms with space for additional collecting – the dream for many sites! Members were shown how a lot of thought had been used for the interpretation in the new spaces, particularly around redisplaying key Suffolk Stories but from a different viewpoint, and how community engagement was a key part of developing these.

Being ‘open to all’ is a key focus for the new direction of the Suffolk Archives at the Hold, and we heard from Community and Learning Officers Mandy Rawlins and Hannah Salisbury about some of the key projects that have been delivered over the last couple of years to support engagement across the county during closure and beyond. These have included Sharing Suffolk Stories, which have involved a range of schemes all over the county working with community groups to explore the archives and share the stories they discover in their own way. This has resulted in a huge range of activity, including online exhibitions, performances, and turning a disused telephone box into a place to hear local stories.

While some activity has had a shorter life span some, like the extremely successful Pride in Suffolk’s Past which explores and celebrates Suffolk’s LGBTQ+ stories, will continue in various veins for years to come. The team have also been doing extensive engagement including special teacher CPD sessions, school loan boxes and escape rooms, and we got to see the travelling exhibition trailer, which has attended various events across the county, and will be heading to Latitude Festival in a couple of weeks!

Members were given a tour of the site including the bright and inviting reading and research rooms, where we discovered that old maps have the aroma of raisins (once you know!), and then were taken into the new strongrooms. These rooms didn’t just have the beautifully arranged archives on the rolling racks, but have been built to need a minimum of air conditioning input to maintain stable conditions for the archives. The building is also fitted with solar panels and a battery storage system to reduce its carbon footprint.

After a glorious lunch from the on-site café, and a concise AGM, we were pleased to welcome Ella Roberts, Head of The Red House in Aldeburgh, on the Suffolk Coast. As the former 17th century home of Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears, the site and its management has gone through a range of transformations over the years, with the site being a working farm until the 1930s and opening as a Library and Trust as a legacy to the work of Britten and Pears under the Britten-Pears Foundation. The second phase of change came in the 2000s when the team began to think about planning for the future, and a capital project became underway to rejuvenate the site for the modern visitor. The site reopened in 2013 with an improved gallery space and more access to tours and the spaces.

The Red House, Aldeburgh

However, there was still a lack of clear public focused direction, and the third transformation came with new personnel changes in 2015 and eventually in 2020 when it became Britten Pears Arts when Snape Maltings, formerly Aldeburgh Music, and the Britten-Pears Foundation that ran the estate, merged. These significant changes gave a clearer focus on engaging immediate audiences of all ages, not just those traditional audiences globally, and with exciting new programmes including for schools and young people, the Red House has gone from strength to strength. Despite the potential challenges of a rather rural coastal site hidden from the main tourist coast, through the sites various transformations and partnerships the site has become a real asset to the Suffolk Coasts cultural  offer, and one where even those who know nothing of Britten and Pears can be engaged and delighted, and discover something new.

A big thank you to speakers from The Hold and The Red House for an insightful day on two very inspiring transformations!