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£1.3m cultural investment in Leigh will reveal borough’s archives

A major funding boost has been secured from the National Lottery to develop Wigan Borough’s archives collection and create an enhanced cultural offer for residents and visitors in Leigh.

Wigan Council’s Archives and Local Studies service has secured a grant of £1,320,700 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) thanks to money raised by National Lottery players for the ‘Revealing Wigan Archives’ project, bringing recent investment in the town up to £6million.

Along with a new public search room, three vacant Leigh Town Hall shop units will be converted into new exhibition space for archives and additional shop units will be used as specialist storage to protect the collection, which will transform the Leigh archives base and restore part of the town hall building.

The plans also include a new café space in Leigh Town Hall and conservation facilities to catalogue and digitise collections making them more readily accessible.

This latest funding boost follows the £5m Believe In Leigh fund pledged this year by Lord Peter Smith, the leader of Wigan Council, to enhance Leigh which has already seen the £1m regeneration of Bradshawgate and the outdoor market.

Lord Smith said: “We’re absolutely delighted that the Heritage Lottery Fund has awarded us this funding. The archives are vital to our understanding of Wigan Borough’s past as well as bringing history alive for residents and visitors alike.

“This will enhance the cultural offer of Leigh, alongside the fantastic work already ongoing at the Turnpike Gallery, to bring more visitors to the borough in the coming years.”

The shop unit facades adjacent to the town hall will be restored in keeping with the building’s design and shop ‘windows’ created to form part of an interpretative scheme.

Nathan Lee, Head of HLF North West said: “We are delighted to support this project, which, thanks to money raised by National Lottery players, will mean that more people will be able to get involved with, protect, and learn about the exciting heritage right on their doorstep.”

The HLF grant also includes a two-year temporary exhibition programme, with content shaped by community contributions and in partnership with the Museum of Wigan Life.

As well as more outreach and engagement activities there will be a learning programme with schools led by an education and engagement coordinator and an enhanced volunteering programme will be also delivered with various volunteer roles for residents to get involved with including; digitising collections, public talks delivery, hosting visits, welcoming visitors and exhibition stewarding.

Jo Platt, Leigh MP has also expressed her excitement about the project. She said: “This is more fantastic news for Leigh and I’m delighted Wigan Local Studies and Archives Service has been awarded this funding. The plans will provide an exciting and important offer, ensuring our rich heritage is even more readily accessible for residents of all ages and beyond.

“I support this project fully and look forward to watching it develop.”

The archives contain historic records dating back 800 years and covering the entirety of Wigan Borough’s history. They contain records from local councils, hospitals, churches, businesses, clubs and thousands of donations of personal records from individuals and families.

The archives moved to Leigh Town Hall in 1974 and after four decades of collecting records the archives storage is now at capacity. The HLF investment will allow the archives to produce a new vision for what the archives will look like in the future and the services it will deliver.

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