Agenda item

Staffordshire History Centre Project - Update

Joint report of the Deputy Chief Executive and Director of Families and Communities (Staffordshire County Council) and Director of Housing and Community Services (Stoke-on-Trent City Council).


The Committee considered a report (Schedule 3 to the signed minutes) by the Deputy Chief Executive and Director of Families and Communities (Staffordshire County Council) and Director of Housing and Community Services (Stoke-on-Trent City Council) updating them on progress with regard to the Staffordshire History Centre (SHC) Project.


Permission to commence work on the project was granted by the National Lottery Heritage Fund (NLHF) on 17 December 2019. Since that time, a review of the work programme had been undertaken in response to the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic. Proposed changes had subsequently been discussed with the National Heritage Lottery Fund (NHLF) who had extended their deadline for submission of Round 2 Applications.


Audience Agency, the consultants who had been appointed to undertake (i) audience research and (ii) develop a marketing strategy for the History Centre had commenced in February 2020. However, following the outbreak, the company had implemented a furlough system for staff which had delayed progress. Therefore, the timetable for completion of the two pieces of work had been extended until the end of July 2020.  To date, the company had completed an initial report using data/responses from 776 users which would be used to inform the Business Plan, Activity Plan and Market Strategy. In addition, they had launched an online survey on 20 May 2020 which had elicited 302 responses by 5 June 2020. Doorstep interviews would also be undertaken (subject to social distancing rules) in June 2020 in Abbots Bromley.


With regard to the ‘Learning’ element of the project, the contract timetable had been extended to 31 July 2020. Alternative methods of working with volunteers had been investigated and a private Facebook group established. However, owing to this channel not being universally liked an online Learning Blog was launched to include updated content throughout each week. In addition, Robin Johnson, Consultant had made significant progress in establishing partnerships with schools via Entrust Education. An online survey had been sent to schools in the Stafford area with over 50% free school meal and/or English as a Secondary or Foreign Language ratios and feedback to date from those 30 schools which had responded had been overwhelmingly positive. The full results of the survey would be included in the Learning Plan.


Also in support of the Learning element, seven virtual learning sessions had been written with the following themes of (i) Mystery Staffordshire Objects; (ii) Staffordshire Timeline; (iii) Staffordshire Portraits; (iv) Victorian Stafford Gaol; (v) Discover Your Local Area; (vi) Design Your Own Manuscript and (vii) Create Your Own Coat of Arms together with a children’s digital evaluation exercise which aimed to generate basic feedback from pupils.


With regard to the ‘Conservation’ element of the project, a review of the Conservation Management Plan (CMP) for buildings had resulted in five minor amendments being made. The CMP for collections had also recently been completed by the Consultant and was currently being reviewed by the Core Project Team. Both Plans would be completed by the end of June 2020.


With regard to the Design and Implementation element of the project, the Project Team had remained in close contact with the Pringle, Richard, Sharratt Architects who undertook the original design work. A review of their initial work was to be undertaken to incorporate changes necessary arising from the audience research and Activity and Interpretation Plans. In addition, new work had been commissioned to create a habitat for pollinators and wildlife.


The Project Team had also discussed a review of the Implementation Plan to take account of Covid-19, with Imagemakers. The review was to commence following completion of the audience research work and would help to ensure spaces within the Centre were future proofed in the event restrictions remained were in place when the building opened.


Initial work had begun in the Business Plan which would be completed following evaluation of the audience research data, surveys and work on the Activity Plan.


Members noted the following revised key dates for the Project:-


·         Presentation of Audience Research to SHC Board by Audience Agency – 22 July 2020;

·         Draft Reports review by SHC Project Board – August 2020;

·         Mid-Stage Review – Late September 2020;

·         Submission of Round 2 Application (assuming sufficient progress made) – 23 November 2020.


With regard to the establishment of a Development Trust, it was hoped that approval from the Two Authorities would be obtained no later than July 2020. 


During the discussion which ensued, Members paid tribute to the work of the Directors in maintaining momentum in the Project during the 2020 Covid-19 Pandemic. They also stressed the importance of volunteers in ensuring its success and hoped that engagement could be sustained during the period that lockdown/social distancing restrictions were in place. In response, the Directors said whilst they hoped some face to face contact could be re-instated by September 2020, volunteers would continue to be actively involved remotely/on-line.


RESOLVED – That the report be received and noted.

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