Plans to create a regional archive centre in Derry-Londonderry, complete with an accessible home for the city's genealogical collections, have come a step closer following the award of a development grant of £278,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). This grant means the project has received a 'first round pass' and can use the award to work up more detailed plans in order to secure the full £3million grant needed.
The ambitious project will create a new visitor attraction on the city's Waterside by conserving two listed buildings within the former military site of Ebrington for use as the Maritime Museum and Archive Centre. It will bring to life the city's rich maritime heritage with the museum galleries tracing the history of the River Foyle, the development of the port and its impact on human and social heritage through exhibitions, interpretative materials and interactive elements. Inside the buildings, the Heritage and Museum Service's archive of some 30,000 items, which are currently largely inaccessible, will be opened to the general public.
In particular, the proposed regional archive centre will provide access, display and interpretative space for the city's archive and genealogical collections, which are unique to Northern Ireland. Amongst the gems of the collection, which is the largest and most significant public archive held outside of the Public Records Office NI, are 18th- and 19th-century records related to emigration. Derry-Londonderry was, of course, the main port of emigration from the north of the island of Ireland at that time.
Local people will be encouraged to become involved in the project with volunteers recruited and trained to help index the collections and carry out genealogical research. Training will also be provided in collections care, learning programmes and research skills. New education facilities such as a lecture theatre, meeting spaces and training rooms will create space for a range of formal and informal learning opportunities including guided tours, activity trails and audio tours.