A volunteer who preserved the tributes on the Old Toll Bridge after the Shoreham Airshow disaster has called for a public display in the town.
In the days and weeks following the tragedy, thousands of mourners left flowers, tributes and messages on what became known as the ‘bridge of flowers’.
A group of volunteers, led by Shoreham local Suzanne Heaven, tended to the bridge, removing rotting flowers and collecting rain-soaked messages to dry out in Mrs Heaven’s home.
Almost 2,000 tributes were salvaged and plans were made for a digitised, online tribute page.
To Mrs Heaven’s despair, archivists from West Sussex County Council took the artefacts to Chichester for preservation, where they were digitised on the West Sussex Record Office online catalogue, rather than in a more personal display. She believes they did not understand the ‘significance’ of what they were handling.
“Families would leave personalised gifts to represent the victims, like football shirts and even a step ladder,” said Mrs Heaven.
“When the council cleared the room I could tell they didn’t understand the significance of the material they were handling because they left the step ladder behind.
“I can understand how it was exciting for the archivists as a piece of modern history, but what I couldn’t get them to understand was that they are now locked away in an archive office in Chichester.”
She praised the ‘professional’ job of the archivists but was devastated that West Sussex County Council refused to publically display the tributes in the Shoreham Centre. She said the council offered to display them for one day, but Mrs Heaven’s requests for a ‘week/fortnight’ display were ignored.
“It was a public outpouring and a piece of social history,” she said.
“It was Shoreham people who were helping, Shoreham people who were bringing food and dry socks for the emergency services, organising the ‘bridge of lights’ and fundraising for the families.”
A spokesman for West Sussex County Council said it has been a privilege to be involved with the Shoreham Community Archive and to be able to help in preserving this important record.
“Our priority has always been to respect the wishes of the families of those who died in the Shoreham Air Crash and we are very aware of the strength of feeling that remains three years on from the tragedy,” they said.
“The aim of the archive is for it to be a community record for people to access wherever they are and we have treated all the materials with the utmost sensitivity. We involved the families in the decision-making process about the archive. They asked us not to share images online of tributes featuring names of the victims and families and we have respected this decision. Digital images of all other tributes are available online.
“We have offered in the past to bring the archive to Shoreham for an event and to have archivists on-hand to meet people and answer questions. This offer has not yet been taken up and we would want to consult the families involved before doing this.”