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A new home for the BBC Archive

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Peter Skinner | 08:10 UK time, Friday, 20 August 2010

A warm balmy afternoon in July 2007 had erupted into a fierce-some thunderstorm. Looking out across West London from a 3rd floor window in the Broadcasting Centre, the doom-mongerers were in full force.  "Not looking good out to the West", said one and then embroidered his forecast by musing "I reckon that lightening storm is right over Brentford".   
Spot on.  

My phone rang "We've got another flood at Windmill Road" came the call from Paul, our Logistics Manager on site.   

It was the third flood in the same summer and the 10th of the decade.  The heart sank, yet more rain-water overwhelming the fragile gutters and penetrating the porous roofing of the proud old building.  Internal drain manholes blasted out of their mountings and swept along by the torrents of rainwater backing up from the nearby roads as the local drains failed to cope.     
More and more chaos and upheaval for the dedicated on-site team to manage.  And so they swept into action, moving hundreds of tapes to safer higher areas in the archive, laying out wet and decaying material in dry rooms, wading through inches of water to save the archive, transporting damaged film to specialist recovery outfits and mopping up the sodden floors...  
Windmill Road had taken another hit.  The home of the BBC archive, housed in aged, inadequate conditions and surroundings, staggered and reeled..but coped.

Wind on 3 years and reach the summer of 2010....

A new purpose-built archive is close to completion at Perivale. Housing 13 archival controlled vaults to maintain and preserve the physical content plus the construction of new technical areas designed to deliver the various preservation and digitisation programmes that will enable the BBC to deliver priceless programmes back to our audience in new ways. 

A fantastic commitment, both in terms of intent and design, that underlines the importance of the BBC's output for the past 80 years and keeps it alive for future audiences, enhanced by new technologies.

 The new BBC Archive Centre - Perivale The new BBC Archive Centre - Perivale

Five years in planning.  A rollercoaster of project management, patience and delivery. Immense gratitude to colleagues across the BBC; to the Executive for supporting the vision; to the project management team in BBC Workplace; to the staff in Information & Archives for making it happen and many, many more contributors.  

This is one of the biggest Broadcast Archive moves ever undertaken in the world. As I write, we have just passed the 600,000 mark for items moved from Windmill Road to Perivale. The stock migration will cover 202 working days, move 3.7million items and complete by March 2011.  And we are bang on target.

Every day we move 350 shelves of content in 12 lorries handled by 40 removal staff. And these items are all 'operationally' live.  If something is needed urgently, then we implement contingency processes to interrupt the move process and meet deadlines.   

At Perivale, we periodically transfer members of the team from Brentford to cope with the increasing stock profile and currently await Siemens colleagues to complete the fit-out in the technical and office areas. The majority of staff will transfer by the end of the year.
Where possible, we aim to accelerate the preservation programme, increasing the volume of digitised content. Improved connectivity is a cornerstone of the planning and will allow us to meet greater demand in delivering digital content to our BBC colleagues across the network.   
  New technical area at Perivale and the first cans arrive at Perivale          The new technical area at Perivale       |        The first cans arrive at Perivale

Even the vaults will take on a personality. Major contributors to BBC output over the years have been approached with the idea that particular vaults will be in their name and, where possible, reflect the genre of content relevant to them. Our thanks, therefore to Michael Palin, Dame Judi Dench, Stephen Poliakoff, the estates for John Reith and Dennis Potter and several more.

So, after 42 years at Windmill Road, the BBC Archive is finally moving.
Eight more months to dodge the thunderstorms that seem to target Brentford with unerring accuracy and an opportunity to finally silence my gloomy amateur meteorologist colleagues in the Broadcasting Centre!

Peter Skinner is Head of Archive Operations


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