Gwent Archives – Where the Past Has a Future
Gwent Archives’s new conservation, storage and visitor center is a glowing example of neighbouring Councils working together to create a shared, state-of-the-art public resource. Kinnarps was appointed as the project’s furniture supplier following a competitive tender, which required a full service specialist that could meet the complex requirements of the brief, which included satisfying both the client’s and it’s landlord’s demanding environmental standards.
Gwent Archives,(GA), which was previously known as Gwent Record Office, serves Blaenau Gwent, Torfaen, Caerphilly, Monmouthshire and Newport councils. The organization collects, preserves and makes available to the public documents and records that relate to the area. In effect, Gwent Archives serves as the area’s memory.
GA needed to find a new home as part of the relocation of all the departments previously housed in County Hall, Cwmbran, which was scheduled for demolition. It was invited to relocate to Ebbw Vale’s prestigious ‘The Works’ green regeneration project, and to occupy the former Steel Works’ landmark headquarters building. The existing building was Grade II* listed and represented an important part of Ebbw Vale’s steel working history, so its occupiers needed to have the gravitas to help create a significant visitor attraction, which was also sensitive to the building’s heritage. GA’s research room, meeting facilities and offices will be located in the historic building, which will also house the Ebbw Vale Works Archive Trust.
The Grade II* listed building alone could not provide all the facilities that would offer Gwent Archives their perfect location, so with funding in place from the five councils, permission was granted to build a modern, climate-controlled annexe, which would house GA’s 10 kilometers of storage racks and purpose built document conservation labs. Kinnarps was tasked with supplying furniture that would sit well in both the historic and modern environments.
County Archivist Gary Tuson, who headed the relocation project, explains: ‘Our furniture brief contained many challenges that Kinnarps was readily able to meet. Firstly we needed furniture that would be durable and stand the test of time. As a public sector organization, we needed our investment to last, so we wanted classically styled pieces that would still look fresh in 10 years time. Once we had short-listed from the tendering companies we produced packs showing their products and distributed them among our staff, but without the prices. We asked them to put them in order of preference, according to aesthetics, and Kinnarps came out at the top.’
He continues: ‘Facilitating the flexible use of our space was another particularly important consideration. For example, we have a group room that is used for lectures, meetings, workshops and conferences, so we needed furniture that could be easily reconfigured without needing lots of people to do it. Kinnarps’s flip top tables and stackable chairs gave us an ideal solution that could be moved with ease by just one person.’
Gary also explains why Kinnarps’s environmental credentials were so important: ‘It was imperative that our furniture supplier was able to meet the exacting green standards of this high profile green development and Kinnarps’s commitment to environmental responsibility, throughout its supply chain, easily helped to satisfy them. For example, its use of water-based lacquer finish on the Series N tables we chose for the public research room, not only meant that we had an inert surface that wouldn’t damage delicate documents; it also meant that we were able to choose an oak finish to compliment the existing woodwork in the historic setting. These tables were also perfect because they could be joined together to create large surfaces for spreading out bigger documents like maps and plans. ‘
Ease of access and making sure that public users were comfortable was also imperative to Gary’s requirements: ‘We didn’t just want to meet DDI requirements; we wanted to exceed them. So, as part of the planning process we held a public consultation and asked people what they wanted. They were very keen to have height adjustable chairs, particularly as people often spend several hours at a time looking at documents, and we found a stylish solution in Kinnarps’s Monroe chairs. We were also able to choose electronically height adjustable tables that could also accommodate wheelchair users. It was very helpful to have a supplier that understands the need for good ergonomics in public buildings.’
Gary also reports that he has been very happy with the support service provided by his choice of furniture supplier: ‘Kinnarps has been extremely helpful throughout the project. They came to the site several times, measured all the rooms and provided us with 3D plans so that we could see how everything would look in situ. As well as being indispensable in terms of providing space and furniture planning, one of the issues that arose was that unforeseen changes in the building programme meant we had to put back delivery times. Kinnarps couldn’t have been more accommodating, working flexibly with us to keep everything running smoothly.’
His goals were clear: ‘This has been a massive and complex project; making sure that we are providing better surroundings not only for the storage and conservation of our archives, but also for the well being and comfort of our staff and the people who will use the research facilities here. Kinnarps has supported us throughout and helped us to realise our vision.
Gary concludes: ‘I am particularly pleased with the positive feedback we have received from the public since we opened. They have commented on the comfort and ambience of the public library, and many are using the facility for longer hours than we previously experienced. So, mission accomplished’.