‘Mapping Suffolk’s Stories’ - highlighting the national and global relevance of Suffolk's collections

‘Mapping Suffolk’s Stories’ is a community engagement project helping people to explore their shared history through historic maps and records. This case study forms part of the Value of culture - community engagement section of our online Culture Hub.


The project will take place while a new visitor attraction, The Hold, is built in Ipswich to house the bulk of Suffolk’s archives collection. The Hold will eventually house almost nine miles of material, spanning nine centuries, in state-of-the-art facilities with a café, exhibition space and teaching spaces. It is a partnership between Suffolk County Council’s Record Office and the University of Suffolk, with the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) providing initial support and a development grant of over £500,000 towards a full grant of £10.3 million. The full cost is over £20 million.

While The Hold is being built, Suffolk Record Office will run a programme of activity highlighting the national and global relevance of its collections. ‘Mapping Suffolk’s Stories’ will use historic maps as a starting point for uncovering stories about people, places and events. Record Office staff, aided by the university, heritage organisations and teachers, will work with community groups and schools to explore local heritage. The idea came out of a series of workshops with stakeholders and university lecturers around developing an activity plan that would engage as many people as possible.

Impact of the project

‘Mapping Suffolk’s Stories’ will help people to develop new skills, meet new people and make discoveries about their community’s history and identity. Groups will share their work through exhibitions, pop-ups, publications and online, and the project will culminate with an ‘Archives Fest’ for schools in 2021. It will also act as the template for a new way of working for the Record Office, delivering engagement and education in communities rather than in-house.

The team is working to ensure that hard-to-reach groups help to shape the project. Target audiences include black and minority ethnic groups, young people, people with a mental health diagnosis, rural communities and people with disabilities. The ability of archive projects to contribute towards community identity has been evidenced by research during the project’s development. Amy Rushton, Suffolk County Council’s Heritage Programme Manager, said: “The ambition is to encourage participation from groups across the whole county, with traditional archive user groups working alongside new audiences.”  

Several Suffolk councillors are championing the project in their work with heritage organisations and community groups. Councillor Richard Smith, Cabinet Member for Finance and Heritage, said: “Learning about the shared history of their locality, developing new skills and working towards a common goal will improve the health, happiness and wellbeing of participants – a concept which lies at the heart of place-making.”

Looking to the future

The Hold is expected to attract 36,200 visitors when it opens in 2020, compared with 9,000 a year in the current location. It will increase the role of heritage in supporting education, training, leisure and lifelong learning and will widen the reach of the archives service, for example through increased digitisation of material. Robyn Llewellyn, Head of HLF East of England, said: “The Hold will be a beacon of discovery, and throughout the county people will be able to get involved in using historic maps to learn about their own local area. Thanks to National Lottery players we are delighted to offer our support to this partnership project.”

Key learning points

  • A project of this scale needs a good steering group which involves key representatives early on, including from the target audience.  
  • Hard-to-reach groups will not always respond enthusiastically to ‘traditional’ local history themes – the key is finding something to hook their interest.
  • Getting people who do not know each other together around a map of familiar places is a good way for people to start conversations and make new connections.

For further information contact Amy Rushton, Heritage Programme Manager, Suffolk County Council: amy.rushton@suffolk.gov.uk


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This case study has been developed in conjunction with Arts Council England