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News Release - Issued by City of York Council

£2m York Explore and Archives reopen

Explore York Libraries and Archives opened its new flagship service in the city centre yesterday (5 January 2015). The building has been closed for seven months for building and development work as part of the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) funded York: Gateway to History project.

The £2,091,127 project has created a state-of-the-art store and reading room for the Archive, as well as a refurbished Local History library and Family History centre. The building has also undergone essential repairs and conservation to its original parquet floor and slate roof, as well as getting a much-needed heating upgrade and new toilets.

The city’s internationally-important archive was previously housed in overcrowded and damp rooms at York Art Gallery. The conditions placed historic documents, including the city’s first charter dated 1155 and its letter of condolence after the death of Richard III, at risk. Space for visitors was very limited, with staff, volunteers and researchers confined to a single room while school visits and other events were almost impossible.

Fiona Spiers, Head of Heritage Lottery Fund Yorkshire and the Humber, said: “Thanks to money raised by National Lottery players the future of one of the UK’s most important city archives has been secured and its new home means even more people can access over 800 centuries of information about York and the people who live here. We are proud to support this project.”

Cllr Sonja Crisp, Cabinet Member for Leisure, Culture and Tourism, said: “Now the Archive has the city centre home that it deserves, thanks to £1,574,200 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and a further £516,927 from City of York Council.

“It makes such a difference! The modern store holds a mile and a half of historic documents in a precisely controlled climate on electronic shelving. The documents have been catalogued, packed into acid-free boxes or tissue and relabelled to make them easier to find and use.”

Not all of the city’s 300 cubic metres of archives will be available to look at straight away as this work to catalogue and preserve the material continues throughout 2015 and beyond. However, the city’s core civic documents and community collections have been prepared in advance. You can find out what is available and when on Explore’s website:

Victoria Hoyle, City Archivist said: “This is a fabulous new beginning for the Archives. The grant from the HLF and ongoing support from the council have allowed us to create these new facilities, which give us the capacity to vastly increase the number of people who can discover and enjoy York’s history while also preserving the collections for future generations.”

The Archive reading room seats 12 researchers and can also be used for family history classes, school visits and volunteer projects. Both it and the Local History library are equipped with new state-of-the-art scanners so that visitors can instantly save copies of documents or books that interest them.

Over 6,000 printed books and maps about the history of York and surrounding area have also been catalogued and can be browsed online and onsite for the first time. They used to be stored in a ‘stack’ – now converted into the Family History centre – and could only be found using a card catalogue index. Now they are on display for everyone to explore.

Family historians will still be able to search through microfilms of local newspapers, burial registers and workhouse records, but now they will use touch-screen digital microfilm readers and save their results to a memory stick. and the British Newspaper Archive are also available to use for free on library computers or using WiFi.

The spaces can be used by anyone for quiet study or reading.
The Local History library and Family History centre will be open seven days a week at the same times as the library, while anyone can visit to look at original documents Monday-Wednesday 9.30am-5.00pm and Saturday 9.30am-4.30pm.

As well as undergoing essential repairs to the structure during the closure, the cafe has been refurbished and refreshed, providing more tables. The children’s library is bigger and the non-fiction and reference stock has been moved around to create more quiet spaces.

Chief Executive Fiona Williams said: “Our flagship Explore Centre is a living place and we are committed to keeping it looking fresh and up to date so that it can continue to be a place of delight, discovery and learning for so many people. We can’t wait to see what people think to the new-look cafe and children’s area.

“And now we also have a wonderful Archive to share. It has been a long journey from initial idea to completion but I think everyone will agree that the wait has been worth it. I would like to pay tribute to all our staff who have worked so hard, especially the archivists who are breathing life into our Collections.”

The York: Gateway to History project continues throughout 2015 with a programme of events and activities to encourage as many people as possible to experience the new Archive.


Notes to Editors

Explore York Libraries and Archives Mutual Limited is committed to knowledge and ideas for all, enabling people to live fuller, more connected and engaged lives. Our core values are for us to be:

• enterprising - innovating and striving for excellence
• community focused - working in partnership
• fair - free and open to all, impartial in all that we do
• individually and collectively accountable - for the stewardship of our collections and on the delivery of our commitments
• a learning organisation - building reflective practice into everything we do to continuously develop and improve.

The York Gateway to History project is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund with City of York Council and Explore which aims to create a sustainable future for the archive service through capital building works at York Explore and a programme of community engagement work setting the foundations for an inclusive and representative archive service. There is more information available about the Gateway to History project via the City Archive blog -
Heritage Lottery Fund. Using money raised through the National Lottery, the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) aims to make a lasting difference for heritage, people and communities across the UK and help build a resilient heritage economy. From museums, parks and historic places to archaeology, natural environment and cultural traditions, we invest in every part of our diverse heritage. HLF has supported over 36,000 projects with more than £6bn across the UK. @heritagelottery

For further information please contact:
Megan Rule
Communications Manager
City of York Council
Tel: 01904 552017
Fax: 01904 551064
Mob/out of hours: 07767318082