A first in Kent
Opening a heritage centre in the Marden village library
By Eunice Doswell
On 23rd March 2008 the village of Marden saw the official opening, by Ann Widdecombe MP for Maidstone, of the Marden Heritage Centre. This is the result of an alliance between Kent County Council Libraries & Archives and the Marden History Group.
It was only 10 years ago that, as the result of the Marden Village Statement, the History Group evolved. Thus the collection of memorabilia began. “Where should we put it all?” was the desperate cry; the only answer being, “In the Chairman’s unused caravan.” As this deteriorated, the collection moved to his uninhabited stable. Obviously this was not the best solution, so more drastic possibilities needed to be explored. Extensions to the village library or the village Memorial Hall were considered, with the library being the most central & accessible. Then came the brick wall – no funders would consider an extension by a private group to a public building.
However the library-service themselves offered a solution. They felt that they could offer space to suit our needs so then it was full steam ahead and many hours of work. Awards for All offered their top grant of £10,000 and with added donations from the Parish Council, the Borough Council, Kent County Council, the Allen Grove Fund & ourselves; we reached the estimated cost of £13,500. Having prepared well we were ready for preview opening within an amazing 6 weeks.
Labour & furnishings were sourced as locally as possible and it is amazing what talent & generosity of time can be found in a village. Equipped with multimedia technology, display cabinets, furniture & carpet, along with the start of a brilliant cataloguing system, plus two volunteers to staff each library session, we are now up and running. There are still many learning curves to conquer for all of us. We realise that we are hampered by the lack of internet connection and of course there will be the perennial problem of paying the rent. Are we pleased we have pioneered this type of project? I think we would all say a resounding YES. Donations have appeared – from young Charlie who rushed home for his Coronation mug & signed the donation form himself, to an elderly resident who produced a blue pottery vinegar bottle inscribed Marden which she had purchased from the Post Office years ago. We were thrilled to receive the old ticket machine from Marden Railway Station (thoughtfully provided with photos of the railway clerk on a memory stick). Photos, documents, bottles, artefacts have arrived, but also of vital importance – information & identification of photos etc.
Greatly appreciated has been the backing from the Centre for Kentish Studies and MaidstoneMuseum. So where do we go next? Exhibitions will be changed every 3 months; joint projects are to be held with various other organisations including the local school. We need to streamline our procedures and have an ongoing programme of skilling the volunteers who are also carrying out research whilst there is a gap in between visitors. Our experimental project is being watched carefully not only by Kent Libraries & Archives but by other nearby villages & this week we had a visitor from Stock in Essex. The challenge to make ours a Centre of excellence continues.
To learn more about Marden in Kent visit www.mardenhistory.org.uk
Eunice Doswell 08. 03. 2008