Thursday, 28th February 2008.
One of Haverhill’s hidden treasures until now, the Centre for Computing History has been established to create a permanent, public exhibition that tells the story of the ‘Information Age’.
At the core of this ambitious project is an internationally significant collection of computers, related artefacts, memorabilia and associated materials that already exists in the town. As well as preserving and displaying this IT heritage, the museum will demonstrate the computing industry’s unique contribution to the world and will showcase the social, historical and contemporary impact of the computer.
The museum is the concept of local businessman Jason Fitzpatrick who has been amassing an exceptional collection of vintage computers and related artefacts over a period of some 20 years. Now a number of Haverhill business people, including Nic Rumsey of Haverhill Business Park, have got behind the initiative to push it forward. A steering committee has been formed, a website has been launched, emails have been pouring in from across the UK, Europe and America and the museum has its first interim home.
Mr Fitzpatrick states: “We now have a real project on our hands, not just a proposal. There are still hurdles to overcome, much to do and more money to raise but this museum is fast becoming a reality.”
Why Haverhill?. This group has all the answers, forcing sceptics to sit up and take notice.
Museum spokesperson,, Elaine Collins explains: “Haverhill is a prime location for this venture. For a start, we have the core collection here. Secondly, the town has been frequently identified as an area lacking any substantial heritage provision. Thirdly, Haverhill’s proximity to Cambridge and the shared locale contribute massively to its appeal. Charles Babbage, widely known as the ‘father of computing’, read Mathematics at Trinity College, Cambridge. Cambridge was also home to Acorn Computers, developers of the BBC Micro, and Sinclair Research, creators of the famous ZX81 and ZX Spectrum computers. Today, Microsoft’s UK state-of-the-art research facility is based in Cambridge.
The group hope to create a world class visitor attraction in Haverhill that will dramatically alter the town’s profile, and believe the Centre for Computing History will act as a powerful catalyst for the town’s ongoing economic and cultural renaissance.”
Founding committee member, Gillian Blackmore of Cyberaid takes up the story: “I think this is a fantastic opportunity for Haverhill, hence my involvement. The impact of the information revolution is immeasurable. It’s created today’s global society and knowledge economy. Our thinking, our means of communication and the way we organise our lives have been irreversibly transformed. It is now impossible to imagine a world without computers.”
With over 1500 items, the collection features historic machines like the Altair 8800, the first home computer also directly responsible for the birth of the computer industry, and other nostalgic machines like the Sinclair Spectrum, Commodore 64 and Atari 2600.
As well as preserving vintage machines and memorabilia, the mission of the centre is to spotlight the people behind the inventions and record the information necessary to captivate and inspire future generations.
“We’re really keen to record recollections about the early days of computing,” Lisa McGerty of Printwise, another founding director, is at pains to point out. “Oral history is a big focus for us. Maybe someone reading this has an interesting story to tell? We’d love to record it for future generations to hear.”
At present the museum can only be viewed by appointment, but there are plans afoot to take some exhibits on the road with a series of displays at venues in and around the area later this year. Aimed at everyone from children to academics, an inventive multimedia approach will offer visitors the opportunity to interact with many key machines, thereby promising a hugely entertaining experience.
The centre’s fund-raising campaign kicks off later this year. However, a number of local organisations have already embraced the scheme and contributed valuable sponsorship.
Word on the street says the ‘buzz’ is gaining momentum!
Jason Fitzpatrick continues: “We have the support of over 20 organisations, including Samuel Ward Upper School, Haverhill Enterprise, Haverhill Town Council
and the heritage departments of St Edmundsbury Borough Council and Suffolk County Council. We have also established links with the Bletchley Park Trust.
“I’m proud to have played a part in past initiatives that have involved Haverhill businesses working in partnership to put Haverhill on the map. I believe we can do it again, but on an unprecedented scale. Moreover, I’m very confident that with the group we have assembled to move this project forward we can deliver some exciting results.”
Museum Manager, David Coxshall outlines the present public appeal: “Clearly, we need monetary donations to enable this very exciting initiative to proceed and to fill gaps in our collection. But, at this point in time we specifically need storage boxes, lights, plastic zip bags to archive exhibits, exhibition cases and exhibition materials to create displays.
“In addition, we welcome anything related to computing: vintage systems, software, videos, books, photographs and interviews with you about the items you donate. Maybe you have an old computer in the loft that you would like to see in the museum? Equally important, if you have specialist skills and know how to get old computers or related items working we need your help for various restoration projects. Or perhaps you might be willing to donate some time to help us catalogue the huge amount of articles in the collection?”
To find out more about the progress of the Centre for Computing History and influence future exhibitions visit: www.computinghistory.org.uk
The website also provides information about how to donate to the museum’s current appeal and future fundraising campaign. Companies who may be interested in sponsorship opportunities etc should contact: Elaine on 01440 709794/01440 708494.
Web Link: http://www.computinghistory.org.uk