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Campaigners battling to save the Bury St Edmunds West Suffolk Archives branch say the fight ‘must go on’

Campaigners battling to save the West Suffolk Archives branch, in Bury St Edmunds, say the fight must go on.

More than 500 people have now signed a paper petition to save the branch in Raingate Street, which Suffolk County Council is planning to close as part of swingeing budget cuts.

The Bury Society has also called on the council to defer its decision, due on February 15, and instead set up a working party to consider all the options for keeping the resource in the town.

Campaigners at West Suffolk Archives, Raingate St, Bury St Edmunds, earlier this month. Picture: Mark Westley
Campaigners at West Suffolk Archives, Raingate St, Bury St Edmunds, earlier this month. Picture: Mark Westley

The call has been backed by Julia Wakelam, West Suffolk councillor for Abbeygate and vice-chair of the West Suffolk standards committee.

Cllr Wakelam has called on all county councillors representing the town to support a deferment.

An online petition to retain all the archives in Bury has now also been launched.

Save Our History
Save Our History

Cllr Wakelam said: “I am gravely concerned by Suffolk County Council’s proposal to close the Bury records office and transfer its deposits to The Hold in Ipswich to enable the saving of some £140,000 per annum – 0.02 per cent of the county’s budget.

“No doubt, the council also hopes in due course to realise the value of the Grade II-listed building which houses the current record office.

“This proposal will inflict damage to our communities out of all proportion to that saving.

“As Suffolk county councillors with a connection to the west of the county, I am asking you to support this proposal and ensure that its inclusion in the forthcoming budget is deferred.

Historian Martyn Taylor. Picture: Mecha Morton
Historian Martyn Taylor. Picture: Mecha Morton

“The potential for an alternative must be explored before the extreme step of closing the record office in Bury is taken.

“I know West Suffolk Council stands ready and willing to support that, please could you ensure the county council does, too.

“This is a decision that could not be rowed back; once we have lost our archives, our history, they will be gone for ever, which will be to the great detriment of our residents not only now, but in the future.”

Martyn Taylor, chair of The Bury Society, which is running its Hands off our Archives campaign alongside the Bury Free Press campaign Save Our History, described support for archives remaining in Bury as ‘enormous’.

He said: “More than 500 people have signed our paper petition and I receive around 50 emails a day from people looking to support the campaign. A decision will be made on the February 15 and it is very much a case of do or die before then.

“There is an enormous amount of support coming through from people and it is just a case of: Will they listen?”

At a Suffolk County Council cabinet meeting on Tuesday, councillors were told West Suffolk archives’ historic documents would be available on-demand at The Hold, Ipswich, following concerns about accessibility.

Cllr Bobby Bennett, cabinet member for equality and communities, said the council would also be reviewing The Hold’s opening hours, transport links and parking facilities.

She added plans were also under way to publish many of the most popular records online by early 2025.

The Bury branch closure plan was announced along side that in Lowestoft, in a bid to save around £140,000 a year as part of the county council’s £64.7 million budget cuts.

Keeping the West Suffolk archives in Bury would require a £5 million investment to keep the building fit for purpose.

Suffolk county councillor Robert Everitt said this week: “Had West Suffolk Council gone ahead and built the Western Way hub, which would have housed the documents, we wouldn’t be looking at what we are now.

“West Suffolk Council has now suggested it could put the archives in the current West Suffolk House, but they will have to convince Suffolk County Council that it is worth spending money on.

“I do believe the archives should stay in Bury because that is exactly what we were trying to do in the first place.”

County councillor Beccy Hopfensperger said: “I totally value the importance of maintaining historic records, particularly those which have been bequeathed to Bury, and I believe there is value in having conversations about the future of these collections.”

Paul Derrick, head of news at the Bury Free Press, said: “The plan to close the West Suffolk archives branch has galvanised residents, historians and community leaders around one simple message – Save Our History.

“They all share the same refrain - our historic records should stay in Bury. It is a growing chorus which looks to only get louder and should be heard by the county’s decision-makers.”

You can contact your county councillor to make you views known at www.suffolk.gov.uk or The Bury Society at www.burysociety.com

You can also sign the online petition here www.ipetitions.com/petition/save-bury-archives