Ipswich’s new heritage centre takes step closer thanks to lottery grant

An artist's impression of the new heritage centre.

An artist's impression of the new heritage centre. - Credit: Archant

Thousands more people could be going back to their roots in Suffolk as hopes of a new £17million record office and heritage centre in Ipswich received a massive boost.

Sarah Stamp and Ben Gummer with the cheque from the HLF for the first stage of funding The Hold.

Sarah Stamp and Ben Gummer with the cheque from the HLF for the first stage of funding The Hold. - Credit: Archant

The Heritage Lottery Fund has granted £538,000 to Suffolk County Council to draw up plans for the new centre – which will be a new home for the county’s official records.

It is set to be built on the north side of the university campus near the Suffolk New College buildings – and is seen as an important magnet for tourism in the town.

It will include all the records held by local authorities, many parish records, and some of the records held by parishes across Suffolk.

It also holds some of the records detailing the lives of some of the county’s great families, including the de Samaurez family who lived near Ipswich, and the Marquess of Bristol’s family from Ickworth House, near Bury St Edmunds.

An artist's impression of the new heritage centre.

An artist's impression of the new heritage centre. - Credit: Archant

Records are a vital resource to scholars researching the history of the county and also to amateur genealogists researching their own family history.

It could be a big draw to anyone inspired by the BBC show Who Do You Think You Are?, in which celebrities trace their family trees.

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The county’s records which are currently held at Gatacre Road, Ipswich, would be moved to the new purpose-built centre – called The Hold – which will also include lecture rooms, a cafe, and exhibition space to show off some of the records.

It should be much easier to view records in the new centre – and for the first time some will be put on display in the exhibition area.

The first-stage grant is seen as a clear indication that the HLF is likely to follow this up with a further grant of £10.3m to help finance the project as a whole.

The county council has already pledged £5m for the project and UCS has given £1m and the land that the centre will be built on.

In other parts of the country, records centres are a major attraction for people from across the world trying to trace their family history – in many cases inspired by the television programmes.

Suffolk has three records offices and those in Bury St Edmunds and Lowestoft will remain open – but the main focus will be on The Hold in Ipswich.

Suffolk County Council cabinet member Sarah Stamp said: “We’re absolutely delighted that the Heritage Lottery Fund has given us this important support.

“The Hold will not only completely transform our ability to care for and showcase our county’s records and collections, but also to promote them and give access to a broader audience.”

Mrs Stamp hoped final approval for the full lottery grant would come through early next year, allowing detailed plans to be completed and contractors to be appointed.

Building work could start in early 2018, which should see it completed in 2019. The Hold could open to the public in 2020 once all the records have been moved there.

At present the county council shares the Gatacre Road records office with Eastern Angles’ Sir John Mills Theatre.

Mrs Stamp said the council had been in regular touch with the theatre company, which was aware of the proposals for the records office to move.