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Computer museum gets boost from Cambridge investors

Thursday, 3rd March 2011.

Funding from two high-profile Cambridge tech businesses will see the Computer Museum founded in Haverhill on the way to realising its aim of becoming a national attraction - but in Cambridge.

Hopes that the museum might find a permanent home in Haverhill have proved unfounded, to the disappointment of its board of trustees led by its founder Jason Fitzpatrick.

But award-winning Red Gate Software and superchip designer ARM Holdings have both donated substantial funding to accelerate the realisation of this groundbreaking initiative, and the trustees could not refuse the opportunity, although it comes with a condition that the museum is set up in Cambridge.

"We had a long meeting about it when the offer first came up," said Mr Fitzpatrick. "We originally got together to do something for Haverhill, but four years on it hasn't really worked out.

"People have told us Haverhill is not the right place to have a museum. The big businesses we have approached have said, maybe not is so many words, it's the wrong place."

The Centre for Computing History was established in Haverhill in 2006 to explore the impact of, and tell the story of, the Information Age. Ambitious plans are now afoot to relocate the museum to Cambridge, in the city where so much of this story has unfolded.

The hunt is on for a building in Cambridge to house this internationally significant collection of vintage computers, memorabilia, artefacts and associated documents.

With over 7,000 items, including historic machines like the Altair 8800 -the first home computer - the Sinclair Spectrum, Commodore 64 and the Acorn Atom, space is an issue.

The museum needs around 10,000 sq ft of rented accommodation, within walking distance of the city centre, to showcase the collection and provide storage. This will facilitate the next stage of the project prior to the eventual creation of a permanent, purpose built home.

ARM is currently providing some temporary storage for the collection, a fraction of which is displayed in a small temporary site in Haverhill.

“We want to thank Red Gate and ARM for their generosity, as it will play a crucial role in helping us realise the museum's vision. We are grateful that they share our belief in this venture,” said Mr Fitzpatrick. "This is a very exciting development.

“Cambridge is the natural home for The Centre for Computing History in the UK. Charles Babbage, widely regarded as the ‘father of computing’, read mathematics at Trinity College.

"Cambridge also generated Acorn Computers, developer of the BBC Micro, and Sinclair Research, creator of the famous ZX81 and ZX Spectrum computers.

"The region continues to embrace a large cluster of high-technology companies (computing, biotechnology, electronics and software) many of which have direct and indirect links with the University of Cambridge.

"An area of intense innovation activity, it is considered one of the most important technology centres in Europe.

“The centre now stands poised at a definitive moment. There are still hurdles to overcome, much to do and more money to raise but relocating this museum is fast becoming a reality.

"Organisations have a unique opportunity to make an enduring contribution to computing history and play a key role in shaping the museum’s future.”

Neil Davidson, joint chief executive of Red Gate said: “I, and many people at Red Gate, have an enormous personal debt to the UK computer industry of the 1980s.

"We cut our teeth on BBC Micros and Sinclair Spectrums: they made us who we are. This is one way of saying thank you, and of making sure that we celebrate the future and not just the past of Cambridge’s role in computing history.”

Cambridge-based entrepreneur and co-founder of Acorn Computers Dr Hermann Hauser has also been taking a keen interest in the project and said: "It would be wonderful if a Computer Museum was opened in Cambridge to celebrate the many historic milestones Cambridge University and local companies have contributed to."

Mr Fitzpatrick, who acted as a technical advisor as well as appearing in the BBC’s Micro Men TV film, continued: “The advent and evolution of personal computers have revolutionised the way we live and work.

"They have touched practically every aspect of our lives – including medicine – and changed things for ever. Rapid global communications now shape modern culture and society.

“However, the fast-paced nature of the computing industry, along with the tendency to discard irrelevant technology as it becomes outdated, creates the risk that a sense of its origins will be lost.

"The centre’s aim is to preserve this fundamental part of our history, as it continues to happen and keep it alive."

The Centre for Computing History has navigated an eventful journey over the past four years, led by its board of five trustees, an additional three committee members and numerous hard-working volunteers from far and wide.

Despite a limited budget, hard work and passion have delivered remarkable results. It has forged a reputation for originality and impressed organisations as diverse as the BBC, Open University and the Gadget Show Live.

With a website that currently attracts over 12,000 unique visitors a month the centre also enjoys robust, international status as an educational resource.

Mr Fitzpatrick concluded: “Most important is not the grand ambition behind this museum, but the fact that it has grown out of a long-standing project to inspire and enthuse future generations and that will remain at the heart of it.

“The story of the Information Age and of all the engineers, innovators, inventors and creative visionaries who made it happen is inspirational. It is still waiting to be told in this country.

"Cambridge played an integral role in that story. If we can turn our vision into reality the Centre for Computing History will be another gift from Cambridge to the whole world.”

The Centre for Computing History is a registered charity. If you can help with funding, have other suitable memorabilia – or if you have a suitable building for the museum – get in touch with Jason Fitzpatrick on 01440 709794 or via email: info@computinghistory.org.uk

Haverhill Online News

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