Teesside Archives – TRUST

This case study explores how local archives staff built up good relations and developed trust to enable the archives of the Redcar Steelworks to be saved.


This case study explores how local archives staff built up good relations and developed trust to enable the archives of the Redcar Steelworks to be saved. The Steelworks was a major employer in the area, and an important part of the local narrative and heritage. The Tees Valley Combined Authority (TVCA) paid much of the costs of the project to save the records, which involved removals, a freelance project officer, packaging materials, a consultant to carry out the oral history interviews, and website development.

The challenge

After a period of decline at the Redcar Steelworks, the core of the site was closed in 2015, leading to the loss of many jobs. Initial attempts by Teesside Archives to negotiate a deposit of records from the site were unsuccessful. The main challenge was to build up good relations and develop sufficient trust to enable the archives staff onto the old steelworks site to save and preserve the archive, so that communities could engage in their own stories and heritage. 

The solution

Staff from the archives built links with the local Save Our Steel Heritage group, a coalition of local councillors, former workers and academics interested in sensitive redevelopment of the site, and also with staff at the new Tees Valley Combined Authority, who had heritage and culture responsibilities.

By July 2021, access to the site was highly restricted on health and safety grounds as demolition work was underway. However, as a result of the relationship-building, the Archives Manager and Conservator were invited to view the surviving archives, including plans and photographic negatives, correspondence files, publications and operational records. These were located in a former canteen, piled on the floor, and also in large filing cabinets in a semi-derelict building.  

The impact

As a result of the project, Teesside Archives have selected, catalogued and repackaged hundreds of plans. The community have made additional related deposits and people have contributed oral histories to enhance knowledge of the steelworks. The project cataloguer and the Archivist presented a paper on the project at an academic conference in Sheffield. A website is also under development, which will showcase the history of the site, including 3D models.

“The Teesworks project has been great for the service. Although it was challenging, it has done wonders to help raise our profile as well as engage new people, and save an important collection.”

How is the new approach being sustained?

The TVCA is looking at the future of heritage in the area, and how they can invest in it. They are funding a feasibility study looking at the future of archive provision in the area and the archives are central to this, as we hold the information and resources that support the work of museums as well as having a unique offer with our ability to tell the stories of the people of the area. 

Lessons learned

Trust was central to the project in several ways and was the result of years of work carefully developing relationships. It enabled staff to gain access to the collection and have it deposited, and to engage the local community. Trust enabled the Archives staff to avoid having to take sides in sometimes fraught local politics surrounding the future of the site. 


Ruth Hobbins, [email protected]