Plans to keep town's history at home

HOPES of keeping an important collection of historic records in its home town have been given a boost after it emerged a local venue might be able to house them.

By Roddy Ashworth

HOPES of keeping an important collection of historic records in its home town have been given a boost after it emerged a local venue might be able to house them.

Essex County Council recently announced plans to relocate the priceless documents held at Stanwell House, Colchester, to a central, countywide record office in Chelmsford.

But yesterday the trustees of the soon-to-be vacated Minories building in Colchester High Street confirmed they would be happy to discuss the possibility of allowing the collection - which includes town charters dating back to 900AD - to be stored there for local people to access.

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Trustees of The Victor Batte-Lay Trust, which owns the Minories, are currently considering the future of the building after its current occupant, arts organisation Firstsite, moves into the new landmark Visual Arts Facility (VAF) next door in late 2007.

The trust took over the Minories, a Grade II-listed building with Tudor origins, in 1956 after it was left to the town in an endowment that stipulated it must be used for artistic and cultural reasons and for the benefit of the people of Colchester.

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A number of organisations have so far indicated a possible interest in using the building after Firstsite vacates it, including Colchester Institute's School of Art and Design and the Colchester Archaeological Trust.

But yesterday a spokesman for the trustees said they would be prepared to consider the prospect of a Colchester Heritage Centre that could include the Stanwell House records along with other projects.

“It is very early days, but that sort of use would fit within the charitable objectives because it would fulfil historic and antiquarian requirements,” he said.

“I do not think we would have much trouble with the Charity Commission because it would be for the benefit of the people of Colchester.

“However, whether the building would be appropriate for that sort of use is something they would have to investigate.

“Even before this process started formally we had been having discreet discussions with people in and around the borough as to what uses the building might have in the future, but we were unable to go public until May when the VAF got the go-ahead.”

He added that since the vacancy had been announced, interest in occupying the building had been “healthy” and that the deadline for applications was January next year.

Yesterday Kevin Bentley, Colchester Borough Council cabinet member with responsibility for culture, said: “At the moment we are looking at working with the county council to establish a Colchester Heritage Centre, and the Minories is a base we have been looking at.

“It's something we are keen to do, and it could include the storing of Colchester's records.

“However, there are practical issues - my understanding is that some of these documents need to be kept at exactly the right temperature and humidity, and they are also very heavy.

“The Minories might not be suitable - but if we could do that, it would be tremendous.”

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