J D Davies

Carmarthenshire Archives (and Museums): a Brave New World?

It’s been a while since I posted about the situation with Carmarthenshire Archives, which took up so much space on this blog in the second half of last year, so I thought it was time I provided you with an update. My last post on the subject contained the unexpected but very welcome news that the Council’s executive board had decided to invest in a new facility within the county. Following this, things seems to be moving forward quite rapidly. Here’s the text from a newsletter that’s been sent out by the heritage monitoring group nominated at the end of last year at a well attended meeting of representatives from many of the local history and heritage groups; the next of these meetings takes place this week.

“ARCHIVES – HOME IN CARMARTHEN” – the future for Carmarthenshire Archives looks cautiously promising thanks to the efforts of the Friends of Carmarthenshire Archives and other dedicated historians.  Discussions between concerned parties and CCC have taken place on three occasions in recent months with a shared vision of a successful, modern and sustainable future for the archives prioritising a Carmarthen/Carmarthenshire service. £2M now confirmed in the capital programme (£125k 2016/17 and £1,750K 2017/18) and CCC are currently working with a Consultant to “scope a number of properties in Carmarthen against a set of criteria – economic, practical and access”. A recommendation is anticipated in 6-8 weeks.  CCC has agreed to consult with the Friends on a regular basis to consider developments and to keep in touch with members’ views – including the vision for an archive service remaining within Carmarthenshire rather than a regionalisation model which could result in the loss of the archives from the county, negative consequences for depositors and researchers within West Wales. It has been agreed to improve the archives services on CCC website and the Friends are inputting into this process.

Regardless of what happens over the new building, the thing that particularly pleases me about this is the way in which the council is now actively consulting with the Friends of the Archives – something that was one of my principal objectives when I started to campaign about the issue last year. The timescale is also positive, although there are still plenty of unanswered questions, such as the exact location, size and staffing of the new site. But one of the most important points of all, that the facility should be within Carmarthenshire, now seems to be set in stone. As for the other most important point – that the damaged archives themselves should be cleaned and made available to the public as soon as possible – progress has certainly been made, and one can only assume that the remaining materials will gradually become available again in the coming months.

However, the group has also been trying to raise awareness, and to secure the future, of Carmarthenshire’s museum service, which has suffered from severe underinvestment over many years. Unfortunately, whereas the archives situation is unique to the county, that with the museums is part of a much bigger national issue; virtually every day seems to bring a new report of a fine and much-loved regional museum being threatened with closure, or actually closing. I very nearly blogged last week about the threat to the Lloyd George Museum in Gwynedd, but fortunately that decision has been deferred. However, I intend to produce a substantial blog about the museums crisis some time in the next few weeks, either myself or with a ‘guest blogger’ who’s very experienced and knowledgeable in the sector. In the meantime, here’s what the newsletter says about the specific situation in Carmarthenshire.

MUSEUMS CHANGE LIVES – but throughout the UK they are closing or are under threat because of cuts in council budgets by the government. The Welsh Assembly’s “Expert Review of Local Museum Provision in Wales 2015” and Welsh Heritage Bill – propose ways forward. At our county museum in Abergwili, County Councillor Gravell reports that “plans are moving forward at a pace with the Tywi Gateway scheme” – initiated by the Welsh Historic Gardens Trust to develop the Bishop’s Park with plans being submitted to the Heritage Lottery Fund this summer. Meanwhile, in limbo, in the midst sits the Bishop’s Palace, a Listed building, home to the wonderful treasures given by us, the public, over more than a century. At Llanelli Museum Cllr. Gravell reports that “the Leader and our officers are meeting with user groups there to positively discuss the future viability of the Mansion house”. Plus “exciting plans are also afoot for the Museum of Speed, linked to the wider regeneration masterplan for Pendine”. Even before the recent cuts, our museum service was suffering from twenty years of neglect – BUT there remains huge potential for local regeneration, job creation, social inclusion, tourism, pride – and fun!

In a nutshell, then, watch this space for further updates on all of these important heritage stories (particularly as I guarantee that for the next four months, this blog will be a referendum-free zone…)