The Arts

The Keep

The Keep, located in Wollards Field in Falmer, will open in December 2013 and be a world class centre for archives that opens up access to all the collections of the East Sussex County Record Office, the Royal Pavilion & Museums local history archives and audio collection, and the internationally significant University of Sussex Special Collections. It will be a ‘Centre of Excellence’ for conservation and will represent the next generation of archive buildings in the UK, in line with ‘Archives for the 21st Century’, the Government archives policy.

The combined collections will provide, under one roof, an unrivalled, detailed record of the region’s history, dating back over 900 years, for local, national and international visitors, together with the University of Sussex’s Special Collections of important 20th and 21st century literary, political and social history archives. The three collections have synergies and bringing them together will present a concentration of collection management expertise and wide-ranging economies of scale. The Keep will also house the Sussex Family History Group library and headquarters, and the Historic Environment Record database, which records sites and finds from early prehistory to 20th century monuments. The Keep will be a community hub with state-of-the-art spaces for education and outreach projects: local organisations and community groups will be able to meet there, hold events and activities – and have fun with archives.

The Keep ‘© F10 Studios Ltd 2010’

The Keep ‘© F10 Studios Ltd 2010’

The building has been designed for different people to use in different ways. There will be greater access to historical material for scholars and specialist researchers, the adult and community sectors, schools, colleges, universities and businesses such as solicitors, architects and developers. The Keep staff will work with educational bodies, local and family history groups, under-represented groups and people with disabilities. A programme of activities for volunteers, including simple conservation and digitisation, will enable individuals and communities to play a part in the preservation and content of their region’s historical and documentary collections. The Keep will have free public access to all its collections. It will operate a drop–in service, with fast retrieval times for original material throughout the day, and efficient systems for ordering material remotely. There will be a new electronic archive catalogue with a full online search facility on The Keep’s new, user-friendly website at, which will give remote access to a wealth of material in the collections. This will be launched in the summer of 2013.

The Keep is a striking, rectangular building, faced in light coloured brick and white render, in an attractive setting, within the ‘South Downs Character Area’. The construction of The Keep separates architecturally the block for document storage (Repository Block) from the block where up to 270 visitors, as well as staff, will study and work (People Block), whilst maintaining a holistic design solution. At the entrance to The Keep a large ‘blank canvas’ wall can be used for projections and other large scale two-dimensional displays, to celebrate the work within. A commissioned frieze by artist Carolyn Trant, featuring images inspired by the collections and the East Sussex landscape, wraps around the upper part of the two blocks. The Keep has been designed to be robust, long lasting, fire resistant, easily maintained and sustainable. It will aspire to be a BREEAM (BRE Environmental Assessment Method) Excellent building, have as low a carbon ‘footprint’ as is possible and will be the most sustainable archive building of its type in the country.

The Repository Block will house over six miles of archives in three storeys, with space for future collections: the temperature and humidity will be carefully controlled to preserve the collections perfectly. The Public Search Rooms on the Ground Floor of the People Block include an Open Reading Room and Reference Library with desk space for up to 115 visitors including access to computer terminals and microform readers. There are discrete, sound-proofed areas with direct entrances onto the Open Reading Room: the Groups Research Area, the Oral History Room, where staff can record memories of individuals, and the Library and Headquarters of the Sussex Family History Group. A secure Search Room where readers can work with original documents adjoins the Open Reading Room. There are three linked Learning and Multifunction Rooms for school classes, student groups and adult learners to engage in interactive and creative learning with archives. These rooms can also be opened out into one large space to host a wide range of community activities including lectures, workshops, events and receptions for up to 150 people. Visitors will enter through the Public Facilities Area, where there is a comfortable cafe area, lockers and toilets. The Keep is easily accessible by public transport and there is ample parking for cars, motorcycles and bicycles.

It will be a beacon for access within the heritage sector, and is exemplary regarding commitment to access for disabled people. ‘Inclusive’ design has been integral to every stage of the building project, with continuous professional appraisal by an Access Consultant, from inception to conclusion, and consultation with deaf and disabled people. ‘Inclusion’ will be reflected in the operation of The Keep once it is open in December 2013 and in its programme of activities. Access from public transport includes well-defined, step-free pedestrian routes; the drop-off point for accessible transport, and free, designated accessible parking, are located by the main entrance; there is a wheelchair park and wheelchairs are available. Inside the building, all public facilities are on the ground floor.

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