Archive of the Future

University of Huddersfield’s Archivist, Sarah Wickham, tells Bruynzeel how Heritage Quay became a core part of their offer

What is Heritage Quay and what does it do?

Heritage Quay is the official archive of the University of Huddersfield. We look after collections including unique 20th- and 21st-century music and the official archive of Rugby League’s governing body. 

One of our primary functions is to act as a friendly interface between the University and the community. We offer a non-threatening space for academics, researchers and the public to share. Members of the community, who might think twice about coming onto campus, have been visiting us in large numbers, attracted by our range of activities – from traditional ‘archive’ events to more unusual events related to our collections. 

For example, we have a lot of vinyl records in our stores. So on World Record Store Day we turned the public area into a temporary music studio and offered local musicians the opportunity to cut a record.


What were the challenges you faced turning the archive into a heritage destination?

It has been a huge undertaking to transform the archive. We wanted to open up the collections, expand the range of visitors, and encourage different methods of interaction. We’ve encouraged visitors to use the collection creatively for inspiration, and for fun. We’re not just focused on historian-type users.

In order to achieve this, a lot of the money and effort was spent on constructing the facility, which has enabled us to do all the other good stuff. Previously we had nine separate storage locations in the building spread over four different floors. Retrieval and management was extremely difficult. Our storage was not fit for purpose. We had a big mould outbreak in one of the repositories before the move, and leaks too.

University of Huddersfield Archivist and Records Manager, Sarah Wickham

How has the renewed repository improved access to your collections and the conditions in which they are stored?

By consolidating everything in one space we were able to increase efficiency and access. As a subcontractor, Bruynzeel worked very closely with the contractor and also with me directly to maximise the space. Their technical input was one of the main reasons Bruynzeel was chosen. Improving the storage was a massive part of meeting current standards, and went a long way to helping us achieve Archive Service Accreditation.

In your opinion, how has the University of Huddersfield benefited from the development at Heritage Quay?

After being open for a just over a year we’d won a slew of prizes and awards. Having that kind of external recognition is great endorsement of the service. 

The University gets a lot of bang for its buck from the archive. We help place the university in the wider environment – the VC loves to bring people down to play with the multimedia. We were aiming for 10,000 visitors in the first three years – we’ve had 12,500 through the doors already with a year to go. 

What does the future hold for Heritage Quay and – more broadly – archive collections in higher education?

We will have to consolidate our activities after the end of the HLF-funding period, having taken some risks knowing that financial support was in place. But the investment has left us in a strong position. We are more relevant to more people, on- and off-campus, than ever before. 

If I was to give one piece of advice to other university archives, it would be look at how you add value. 

We’re seeing benefits across all the faculties: marketing and events management students and engineers are all benefiting from the archive. In a sentence, be really thoughtful and vocal about where you can add value – it may not be in the most obvious place. 


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