Can Cambridgeshire’s local history service become an election issue?

“I want this building please!”

In July 2017, the Conservative-led County Council confirmed that the archive service was being run “at its statutory minimum”. With the whole of the council up for election on 06 May 2021, what pressure can people interested in local history put on candidates and future councillors?

You can find out who your local county council candidates are via https://whocanivotefor.co.uk/ with just your postcode. It’s a free tool put together by activists from the Democracy Club.

I tabled the public question below on what was a very hot day. Cambridgeshire County Council took over libraries and archives following a restructure of local government in the 1970s.

The quotation from Cllr Mathew Shuker is at 3m34s in the video.

The Cambridgeshire Archives Service is here. It was controversially moved out of Cambridge to new facilities at Ely rather than as originally planned at Cambridge Station – a controversy in itself! (Less controversially, they are on Instagram here, and FB here.)

Thus the global city of Cambridge is blessed with a local council that cannot hold its own municipal archives, and has transport, libraries, education, public health and social care policies decided by county councillors now based at Alconbury – another controversial move.

This reflects the city-county polarisation of local democracy in Cambridgeshire – a city dominated by Labour and the Liberal Democrats, vs a county dominated by the Conservatives. This is how it has been for over a generation. (Someone could write a book about it soon as it becomes part of local history itself!)

Now is the time for voters to make local history count – especially with so many local elections taking place at the same time this year. You only have to see the number of options that come back via https://whocanivotefor.co.uk/ when you type your postcode in. Inside Cambridge City we have *six* votes to cast in the different elections open to us on 06 May 2021. (If you’re not registered to vote, see https://www.gov.uk/register-to-vote).

While I don’t expect local history to be at the top of the list of issues voters raise with candidates, I hope a few of us will raise the issue of the very limited funding that the county council provides for statutory services in this field. It doesn’t have to be a case of simply spending more money for the sake of it, but targeting such spending for things that can increase the quality and diversity of services, in particular those that can bring in new income streams. If Cambridge T-shirts can come up with designs like these that I sometimes see around town, it shouldn’t be beyond the capabilities of the county council to team up with some local firms to produce a range based on some of the treasures that they have in the archive.

Alternatively, there might be those of you with much bigger ambitions – such as a vastly-expanded Museum of Cambridge on the Castle Hill / Shire Hall site. It’s something I’d like to see linked up to a possible Cambridge Light Rail stop in the Cambridge Connect proposals. But that’s for those of you following the Metro Mayor elections.

So if you’re reading this and haven’t been in touch with the candidates or the parties, the full list will be published on Friday 09 April (deadline for anyone standing for election is 4pm Thurs 08 April). At which point the https://whocanivotefor.co.uk/ database will be complete and you can start contacting the candidates in your area.

In the meantime, and away from party politics…

I received an email this morning from Collection archivists.

The Cambridgeshire Collection is reopening to the public again from 12th April with more open sessions

“From Monday 12th April the Cambridgeshire Collection will open to researchers on an appointment only basis

Making an appointment

  • Appointments are available on Monday, Wednesday and Friday 10am – 11.45am and 12.15 -2pm and on Tuesday and Thursday 12-1:45pm and 2:15-4pm
  • We will also be open for appointments on the second Saturday of the month 10am – 11.45am and 12.15 -2pm. Our next open Saturday will be Saturday 8th May.
  • Email us at Cambridgeshire.collection@cambridgeshire.gov.uk to make your appointment or phone us on 01223 728519.
  • Your appointment must be confirmed by a member of staff.

Please let us know in advance what you would like to look at so we can have it ready for you. You can check our catalogue on the Libraries page of the County Council website.

Visiting the Cambridgeshire Collection

  • On arrival you will need to check in with the member of staff on duty at the entrance.
  • Please do not visit if you have any symptoms of Covid-19 or have been in contact with anyone who has.
  • Face masks are mandatory unless you have a recognised exemption.
  • Lifts will be accessible only for those with mobility issues.
  • Please obey all Covid / social distancing rules in the building.

We look forward to welcoming you back to the Cambridgeshire Collection” https://www.cambridgeshire.gov.uk/residents/libraries-leisure-culture/local-studies/cambridgeshire-collection

There are a number of local history societies around which keep our collective histories alive. These include (but are not limited to):

The Cambridgeshire Antiquarian Societyhttps://www.camantsoc.org/

Going since 1840, they have a talk coming up on Victorian Cambridge.

If you want to access the talk and are not a member, see https://www.camantsoc.org/join-cas/ for joining details. Former members include Venn diagram inventor John Venn, & Save the Children founder Eglantyne Jebb. And ***many famous people*** from town and gown past. All of their past annual publications going back to 1859 have been digitised here.

Cambridgeshire Association for Local Historyhttps://www.calh.org.uk/

The umbrella group for lots of very small local history organisations around Cambridge – a number with very strong local traditions and a long history of some excellent publications. Sometimes I wonder whether this has been significant in ensuring some of our county villages have comprehensive published histories that have shaped them to this day. Also, this weekend I have a presentation on elections inside Cambridge town during the 1800s.

The full text is on page 3 of their March bulletin. Contact details to access my presentation are via https://www.calh.org.uk/ – drop them an email.

The Museum of Cambridgehttps://www.museumofcambridge.org.uk/

Many of the Museum’s events have been online due to lockdown, some of which have been run with other local societies, such as the Evening for the late Allan Brigham with the Mill Road History Society. You can watch again below.

The Museum is also raising money – like everywhere else it is run on a shoe-string. See their Friends scheme at https://www.museumofcambridge.org.uk/support-us/friends/

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