Sunday, February 14, 2010

Forgotten Past

If you are a reader of the Wanstead and Woodford Guardian, Ilford Recorder or this blog, you may already be aware of the threat to the borough’s local studies and archives service.

The Redbridge archive consists of 150,000 items, including books, newspapers, maps, photographs, newspapers and a huge variety of unpublished documents. At present the service deals with 6-7,000 enquiries per year, and delivers a superb service under Ian Dowling’s expert leadership.

In January the Council proposed that the local studies and archives service, based in the Central Library, Ilford, would become appointment-only and reduce its opening hours from 59 to 25 hours per week. Also, a senior librarian and 2.5 assistants would be made redundant, with the service being run henceforth by only one person.

The furious response from local users of the service prompted a revised proposal, by which the number of opening hours would be increased to 36, with free computer access to some online family research tools being rolled out to local libraries across the borough.

The latest proposals may be found here, [click!]

We are encouraged by the fact that public pressure has forced the Council to give some ground, but we do not feel that the revised proposals are at all adequate.

We all recognise that public bodies are under financial pressure at present. However, Redbridge Council’s proposed economies have provoked a storm of protest from users of the archives service, who include historians, genealogists and others. They believe that, in order to save a comparatively tiny amount of money - a few tens of thousands of pounds per year -something irreplaceable will be destroyed.

The Council has a statutory responsibility to maintain an archive and make it accessible to the public. The proposal does not, in our view, meet the spirit of this requirement.

The value of an archive is not to be measured by the number of users compared to other library services, but is something of intrinsic value to the community. The Council’s own report states “Local studies and archives are highly valued… and help to contribute to a sense of place, enabling people to build their sense of belonging by finding out about the past”. Interest in local history and genealogy has never been greater.

On a practical level, an archive is, to a large extent, only as good as its archivists. Continuity of knowledgeable staff is necessary to maintain standards, and a single untrained assistant simply will not do. Potential depositors of material will think twice about handing their collections to an archive where it may not be properly cared for and difficult to access.

The proposals take no account of the nature of local studies enquiries. Most users do not come in and ask for a specific item. They usually have a question they want answered without knowing where or how to get the answer – for example, the history of the site of their house. This may involve looking at items such as maps, photographs, local directories or building plans. This both takes time and means that it is impossible to source all the documents in advance of an appointment, because how every enquiry will develop cannot be known.

Next Tuesday, 16 February, is when the Council’s Cabinet will make its decision. If you feel as strongly as we do about this proposal, you have three days left to make your views known.

The cabinet member for leisure services is Cllr Alan Weinberg. You may e-mail him here.

If you are a Redbridge resident, please copy to the councillors for your own ward. These may be found here.

You may also attend the Council meeting, though you will not now be able to speak.

Details of the meeting may be
found on Redbridge-i.

Please do what you can!

Richard Arnopp
Wanstead Parklands Community Project


  1. It is unfortunate that no mention was made of whereabouts to look in the mighty tome referred to for information on the revised proposal.

    If fear that many interested parties will have lost the will to live long before finding the appropriate section!

    Those that are still with us should look at pages 47/52 of the pdf file (which starts at page 27 of the source document, so it is on 73/78 of the document itself.)

    Ploughing through it, though, I did come across some other interesting items which help put this matter into perspective.

    My favourite is: Costs of Asylum Seekers Not Yet Transferred to UK Border Agency £69,000 - to which should be added: Asylum Seekers – Young Asylum Seekers not funded by Government Grant £600,000.

    The mere £35,000 saving resulting from: Appointment only service for Local Studies and Archives and Extension of Service to Branch Libraries through ICT shows just how iniquitous this measure really is (though savings will increase by a further £22,000 in future after this years redundancy payments.)

    Well, I know which budget I would cut ...!

  2. Knowsie should be aware that the budget put aside for asylum seekers and asylum seekers without a guardian is a statutory requirement - payment from the Govt lags well behind the need of Councils to provide the service - Govt and the Courts have said (and it's been tested) that we have no choice............

  3. Thank you, Vanessa. I had already assumed that was the case but, of course, their will be another 'court' where this can be challenged by everybody in the not-to-distant future ...

    ... another question to add to my list for any PPC who dares to knock on my door ...!

  4. I have used the archives services
    at least six times over the last ten years, mainly concerned with public rights of way (PROW)in Redbridge.
    I must say without the help of the senior assistant I would not have found the records I was looking for. My visits, most of which were spontaneous while being in the area, produced results which proved vital to decisions made concerning local issues, and I'm sure influenced cabinet decisions on such issues as the Roding Valley Way and the current Rights of Way Improvement Plan
    ( ROWIP) it's findings soon to go before the cabinet for acceptance.
    There was never any personal views of the assistant expressed in his help, it was freely given in complete indifferance to my research.
    I must say if it wasn't for this service the public and council would have lost a vital contribution to the Rights of Way Redbridge enjoys today.
    Ron King

  5. I think Knowsie’s mean spirited intervention into this important debate cheapens, de-values and distracts from the main argument about the importance of the local history library service.

    This is not least because our local history has been positively shaped by migration (of which forced migration i.e. seeking asylum has been a significant element).

    Perhaps his ire should be directed at other waste such as consultancy fees on Olympic sized swimming pools that never were, Ilford Town centre developments, and Barkingside regeneration. He could also suggest that our Councillors freeze their allowances for the next 4 years and reduce the number of people that have special allowances (perhaps Vice-Chairs of Committees should only be paid an additional allowance when their service is requiredand not as a standing retainer). We could be even more radical and each Councillor take a 5% cut their allowance. The benefit of these suggestions are that Cllr Cole cannot hide behind the shield of statutory requirement or the courts and as these decisions would most definitely be within her gift.

    Mark Santos

  6. Mark,
    While the substance of your post is legitimate I have to say that your comments regarding Knowsie and Cllr Mrs Cole are uncalled for.

  7. Without necessarily agreeing completely with Mark Santos I would go slightly further. Submit to the appropriate body a scheme that increases the number of electoral wards in Redbridge from 21 to 36, but that also reduces the number of councillors from 63 to 36 - one per ward. At the same time the number of local Area Committees could reduce from 7 to just 4.

  8. B21 - I think on this occasion we will have to agree to disagree.

    Mark Santos

  9. Mark Santos seems to have a very warped view of my earlier comments.

    As I scrolled through the lengthy file looking for the appropriate section, the two entries relating to asylum seekers just jumped off the screen at me - probably because they are fairly close together - and the figures involved were so high compared with savings to be made by causing irreparable harm to Local Studies that I used them as a demonstration of just how little would be saved by the cuts.

    The fact, as Cllr Cole has stated, that my random choice - and that is exactly what it was - also highlighted the greed of HM Government in lumbering the Council Tax payer with expenditure that it should not have, is a bonus!