Staffordshire History Centre

Comments on the HLF mid-stage review submission

from Lichfield Civic Society


Dear Sir,

Introduction

The comments below constructively challenge the current balance and presentation of the proposal with the intention of encouraging some revision and rebalancing of the content to improve the prospects for a successful grant allocation. They are based upon the information available and importantly without knowledge of the specific feedback from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) on the initial and second mid stage review submissions or the detailed budget proposals. Whilst the mid stage review has been accepted as the basis of a final submission in June there is still a need to improve the bid to improve its competitiveness HLF requirements.

Clearly it is essential to ensure that that the submission documents are all structured to present the answers (UP FRONT) to the tests that the HLF will be applying to this project, namely:

Does this project meet HLF funding criteria; and
Given the limited resources of the HLF does this project deserve funding ahead of other funding applications.

The earlier feedback from the HLF has been:

They accept the historical / cultural value of the collections;
They accept the need to provide safe storage conditions and support a strategy of consolidating to one site to achieve this;
They want SCC to explain how the project will connect meaningful numbers of people with the collections in the archives (i.e. an improved Activity Plan is key to securing funding).

Here are some more specific comments:

Credibility test

A 6,000,000 project to serve 27,000 visitors p.a. to SHC linked to short- term goals about community outreach and digital delivery online is not as good value for money when compared to projects the HLF funded in Manchester and York (which are cited in the report) and which attracted far more people for far less money. Also achieving 27,000 p.a. visitors to Stafford is a big ask, it is a 500% rise on current numbers in Stafford which are dropping by double digit percentages every year. Will the space, facilities and staffing in SHC cope with an average of 100 visitors per day?

Is this really about bricks and mortar?

In SHC Activity Plan 2.6 it is stated "This is a countywide project not just a building in Stafford." However the quality gap between the ideas for capital spending on property vs. the less convincing proposals for visitors and the community, leaves the impression that this is just a capital grant application by SCC.

Resources

There is a sense that there is an over allocation of money towards construction and an under allocation towards activities. This makes it more likely that the Activity Plan will fail due to under funding from the outset. The plan for activities is extremely long and the money allocated to each is trivially small. Will any of these activities amount to more than a foyer exhibit or a brief visit to a school, library or community facility? The project seems inward looking with lack of collaboration with the business community (retail, tourism, leisure) with most activities being driven by and centred on the facility in Stafford and staff who are based there.

Activity Plan paragraph 2.5.2 indicates that one of the strategies to reduce barriers to access is providing a "Strong and coherent offer at the Lichfield and Burton on Trent Access Hubs." Beyond family history help desks in the two Hubs and assisting St Mary's digitising photographs there are a serious lack of other proposals in the 'Activity Action Plan' that would deliver a strong and coherent offer in the Lichfield and Burton Access Hubs. This omission should be rectified by indicating specific actions and the associated resources that improve the offer in both these locations.

Purpose of the Activity Plan

HLF guidance make it clear that the purpose of the Activity Plan is to show that SCC knows how it is going to implement the project to achieve the project goals which relate to visitors (physical and online) and community outreach. The current draft of the document is too long on backward looking analysis and description of process and too short on how the project plan will be rolled out once construction is complete. This could be a disadvantage when the HLF compare SCC's proposal to other competing proposals that spell out much more clearly how the competing projects will deliver their vision through an activity plan.

Service Vision

In Activity Plan, paragraph 1.2.1, the headline aims and objectives of the Vision highlighted include "diversify users, stakeholders and collections". On expanding the scope of collections it is noticeable that in the internal strategic workshop (paragraph 2.1 SWOT table) identified as the opportunity to "Expand collections to represent whole community". This is only partly addressed in the activities plan in TP2 - TP4 Reaching Central and Eastern European Communities & Oral History Project with a target of ten new collections to be deposited.

However in earlier workshops and discussions involving stakeholders a weakness has been identified about the service not being sufficiently proactive is securing new acquisitions. In the Activity Plan in "1.5 Target audiences for development" it states "The Conservation Management Plan for this project and the need to use community engagement and 'proactive collecting' as a tool to diversify collections". Other than TP2 - TP4 the Activity Plan does not include any other reference to expanding collections. The plan should include activities and resources devoted to a proactive approach rather than a passive stance. Changes in digital storage, record keeping, trends on land registration and other changes are challenges that need to be proactively addressed as opposed to not pursuing acquisition opportunities and records being lost. Looked at strategically new acquisitions is a core activity that is fundamental to the long-term relevance and usefulness of the archive service.

Income generation and match funding

A target to generate 87,000 income per year has been set. The income identified so far is c. 12,000 with a note that more is to be identified. The target appears over ambitious and it is not clear that during the HLF project period and beyond that there are sufficient income generating initiatives identified to support longer term sustainability. The match funding achieved is noted as substantial.

Digitisation

There is a summary of consultation views in the appendices summarised in 2.7 Proposed activities where it says, "Consultation across the project with a range of different user and non-user groups has revealed the huge role that digital media can have in the SHC project."

To deliver improved online content a capability (equipment, skilled people and resources) needs to be identified within the project. This could be available on SCC premises, through collaboration with other archives which have these resources or through third party providers. If an internal resource and an external provider, such Find My Past, are to continue to be used there is a strong case for ensuring the service has its own high end photographic and scanning equipment capable of producing very high- resolution images. Unless funding for contracting out or enhanced in house equipment is being dealt with outside the HLF project then it should feature in the submission.

There is a guide to grants for digitisation, which may possibly, be of some use at: "www.townswebarchiving.com/2018/02/sources-funding-for-heritage-digitisation-projects"

2.5.4 Digitisation priorities. What is lacking a clear indication of what the digitisation priorities will be. It is not clear from the specific activities outlined, so a clearer statement of what decisions have been made or the process to be followed to finalise priorities outlined.

Paragraph 1.2.6 concerning the Lichfield Heritage Access Hub states, "Existing analogue catalogues and indexes will be converted to appropriate electronic formats to make them more widely available" and that "A variety of volunteer projects will be established to build on existing work and will be supported by a core funded Volunteer Coordinator, largely based at Lichfield." The retro-conversion of card indexes is very welcome. There would be clear benefits if staff from the LRO are utilised for organising this work and others transferred to the SHC so that their expertise and knowledge of Lichfield records is retained and shared with Stafford based staff.

In part 3 Action Plan 3.29 Digital offer and 3.29 Digitisation and cataloguing, there is also a welcome reference to an emphasis on digitisation of collections being moved from LRO to SHC. The detailed listing needs to be expanded to reflect the activities in Rebecca Jackson's recent emails to me.

What is the name?

The HLF bid submitted on 11th February 2016 expressly indicated that the Lichfield and Burton sites would be Local History Centres. Earlier in 2014 the Lichfield centre was to be described in the same way as Burton i.e. Local and Family History Centre. Now the description is Local History Access Hub. The function and purpose of an Access Hub is ambiguous. As far as Lichfield is concerned it is preferable to retain the name already in the original HLF bid i.e. Local History Centre. St Mary's has an important photographic collection and as operators of the facility they should decide or at least be a party to the name to be used. Rebranding Burton seems an unnecessary change with potential costs.

Lichfield Record Office

Text referring to the LRO is inconsistent in relation to whether it is closing or has closed.

See the following examples:

1.2.2 - This archive has now been relocated to the Staffordshire Record Office
1.7 - 5th paragraph - with Lichfield Record Office closing
2.5.2 - LRO - about to close
3.2.9 - collections that are being moved.

Other comments

1.3.1 Learning in Staffordshire Heritage Learning page 15.

It is noted the list of examples is to be added to. A possible Lichfield based partner is Erasmus Darwin House. One potential partner either for heritage learning or as a location for joint events is the National Memorial Arboretum. It is probably the most successful project that the HLF has funded and does attract very large number of visitors. They have an extensive programme of events there are 15 listed for May 2018 alone.

1.4.1 Current audiences

The figures for the Burton on Trent premises incorrectly use the Stafford numbers of visits: i.e.

Total visits 2015-2016 6,754 2016-2017 5,462
They should read 2015-2016 253 2016-2017 180

   

John Thompson
Chairman,
Lichfield Civic Society,
April 16th, 2018