Archive collections, with the correct engagement, as well as simply providing an historical record, have a living value proven to create a sense of place and promote the health and wellbeing of residents. The Association of New Towns Archives and Museums (ANTAM) network has been set up to share knowledge between members about activities relating to new town archives. Durham County Council Archives is involved and it was my great honour to be asked to be on the Steering Group, which had its first meeting this week.
The project facilitator is a built environment and climate change academic. One of the four members is a Sector Development Manager for the National Archives; another a university researcher in Human Geography; and the third – formerly an Open University Regional Director – is Cabinet Member for Economy, Culture and Regeneration on Milton Keynes Council.
An awesome group of people indeed – but only I come from the town that was Beveridge’s flagship and once labelled ‘Perfecto’!
SETTING THE PROJECT PARAMETERS
The steering group’s task, in this first meeting, was to suggest the project’s four topics for research:
• ‘Health and Wellbeing’ came top of our list; Newton Aycliffe, for example, was built to provide a better place to live than the depressed pit villages of the area, and this topic fits perfectly with the preoccupations of our present times.
• Close on its heels came: ‘Environment and Sustainable Living’ – Newton Aycliffe was built around its ‘greens’ and designed to bring the countryside right into the town. We commented how poor are the health outcomes in many new towns, and how the open spaces that were hoped to engender a healthier lifestyle seem not to have done so – it is going to be a fascinating piece of research to understand why.
• We considered ‘Diversity’ a strong change-through-time topic – trying to observe how the original rootless ‘pioneer’ migrants have morphed into established multi-generational families, and what effect that has had upon the communities, their culture and their attitudes.
• A fourth key area seemed to be: ‘Heritage to shape the future’ (including collecting oral histories) … but strong arguments were advanced for the ‘Role of Women in shaping new towns’ (cf Miss Hamilton!!) and ‘Young People & Families’ (another change-through time topic; Newton Aycliffe has changed from a town “awash with children” to a town desperately trying to build more bungalows for its ageing population).
The project facilitator will now construct four topics-for-investigation out of our discussions. These will then be shaped into project proposals by working groups of experts, funding will be sought, and the research will be undertaken. I promised the Steering Group that Newtonians are proud of their past, with strong history and historic photograph groups … so you may well shortly find yourself being asked for your memories.
I will keep you in touch with progress.
Cllr. John D. Clare
(Cabinet Support, Economy & Regeneration)