York: 'Gateway to History'


Aims and Objectives

 The specific aims of the project are:


  • To deliver an enhanced user experience, offering free, hands-on access to 800 years of the history of the city and its people;
  • To deliver a programme of activities and events to raise the profile of the service and to demonstrate its relevance to all communities in the city, old and new;
  • To work in partnership with volunteer heritage groups in the city to deliver an enhanced public offer, over and above the core service possible with the existing staff team;
  • To support community organisations across the city that have, or are thinking about, developing their own archives to record their lives and activities for the benefit of future generations;
  • To create a sustainable network of contacts, supporters and partners across all parts of the city to assist in future developments and enhancements to the service;


The duration of the project is 3 years in total, from 2013 to 2016.

 Key milestones include:


  • 2005: City of York Council established a Scrutiny Committee to look into options for the City Archive
  • 2009: Initial improvements to the ground floor of the library and renaming to York Explore
  • September  2012: Submission of HLF Round 2 application
  • October 2014: Re-open to public (soft launch)
  •  August 2013: recruit Community Collections outreach  staff
  • November  2013: Public engagement and audience development activities start (two year plan)
  • December 2015: Post-project evaluation
  • March 2016: Final HLF sign-off (project ends) 

Services offered

The upstairs landing and the archives and local history rooms in the York Explore building will be sympathetically refurbished to create more space and additional facilities for people using the archive and local history collections, including:


  •  A state-of-the-art conservation store for the city archives to allow the world-class collections to be located in one central location, offering more hand-on access to the collections for researchers and also preserving the collection for at least the next 800 years.
  • A new quiet study space for all York Explore users.
  • Additional temporary staff to deliver a programme of activities across the city which will publicise the archives and local history collections and make them easier to use for many more people. Activities will include exhibitions, displays, walks, group visits, and learning sessions, all tailored to a wide variety of audiences

An Activity Plan has been produced which will make the Archive and Local History service and the collections easier to use for everyone, whatever their previous level of experience with archives. The Plan will build a network of community links and outreach champions across a much wider range of York citizens than the service has ever engaged with before. This will give the service the broad base of community support that it needs to create a long-term virtuous cycle of continuous improvement.


Outside of the York Explore building itself, York City Council has invested in

Area Challenges

Pursuing the cultural agenda


Business/operational model

Key partners/ stakeholders

The City of York Council was instrumental in the development of the scheme and is the key stakeholder.

Feedback from York residents was very important in the development of the project. A large public consultation process took place with 80 members of the public attending sessions, focus groups and interviews and an additional 344 providing feedback through online questionnaires. Interestingly, the research found that there was little or no awareness of the archive service amongst the general public, but that there was  a great deal of interest in the history of York.

Institutional structure

City of York Council decided in July 2013 to transfer the management of the Library & Archive Service to a community benefit society from April 2014 - Explore Libraries & Archives Mutual. This arrangement will mean that any operating budget surpluses generated will be re-invested back into the service. It is a model that City of York Council feel will best preserve the library & archive service as a professionally staffed operation in the current economic climate of funding cutbacks to local services. Operating as a community benefit society will allow the service the more freedom to innovate to continue to provide a top quality service. 

The role of planning

Financing and funding arrangement

Success factors and outcomes

The archive service has not yet opened so it is not yet possible to ascertain measures of success. However, since opening in May 2010 York Explore has experienced a 15% increase in visits, with a total of 385,982 visits to end February 2011. The presence of the archive is expected to increase footfall still further and help open up the Mint Yard precinct. The project has partly been inspired by the success of the Hull History Centre in opening up a city archive to many more users.

Measurement and Monitoring


 Evaluation will encompass both quantitative and qualitative data gathering.

Contact Details for Further Information

Richard Taylor BA MArAd, City Archivist, City of York Council, Libraries & Archives, West Offices, Station Rise, York YO1 6GA

t: 01904 555738 | m: 07879 117218 | e: [email protected]