Sara Crofts meets up with private conservators in Scotland
The Icon Scotland Group was delighted to welcome Sara Crofts to Scotland for our Annual Plenderleith Memorial Lecture in November, and Sara made time the next day to meet with a group of private conservators working in Scotland. They were Sarah Gerrish, Graciela Ainsworth, Karen Dundas, Gretel Evans, Wilma Bouwmeester and Anna Trist, plus Helen Creasy, Tuula Pardoe and Will Murray from the Scottish Conservation Studio. We would have liked to invite more people but we were limited by space, so we’re hoping this blog will be useful to all those who we couldn’t accommodate in person, and indeed to private conservators from all parts of the UK.
The meeting was held at the Scottish Conservation Studio’s premises at Hopetoun House near Edinburgh, with wonderful refreshments kindly provided by the resident conservators. We began with a quick tour of ‘work on the go’, which included archival items and navigational instruments being prepared for the David Livingstone Museum, textiles being conserved for Edinburgh City Museums and a wonderful umbrella stand from the Glasgow School of Art Mackintosh building. Many interesting topics came up during the tour, including the worrying decline in requests for training from local museums; the importance of keeping copies of the conservation reports produced for local museums; and the potential to use big projects which have employed many different conservation specialisms for advocacy purposes.
The tour was followed by a round-table discussion, as follows:
Volunteering for Icon – private conservators are keen to volunteer, but it is particularly challenging for them because they are giving up time when they could be earning money. It is particularly challenging for conservators from Scotland because the training for aspects of volunteering such as being PACR mentors almost always takes place in London.
The discontinuation of the standard contract which used to be available through the Icon website – this is probably mourned by private conservators everywhere, but Sara explained that Icon’s lawyers have advised that it is too risky for Icon to provide a template contract.
Business skills assistance – there is an ongoing need for this amongst private conservators. Sara noted that Icon is currently pulling together private practice training material covering insurance, health and safety and so on, and that it might be possible to create a business skills hub of shared resources. Icon would welcome further suggestions of what is needed.
Slow payment of invoices by clients – this was clearly a big issue for every conservator around the table! Sara said that she will flag the need for swift payment of small conservation practices when she meets with senior figures from major institutions. It was also suggested that Icon could help with lobbying for conservation practices to be put into the same category as building contractors, where they would have to be paid within two weeks.
CSCS cards – in theory these are required by conservators working on construction sites, although it was noted that in practice some sites don’t seem to expect that conservators will have them. Concern was expressed that the online training required to obtain a card used to be fairly quick and straightforward, but has since become very time-consuming, and that it would be helpful if Icon could lobby for this to change.
New conservation register – there were differing levels of satisfaction with the current version of the conservation register, suggesting that it is working for some conservators but not for others. Sara explained that the specification for the new register came from a review that was undertaken around three years ago. There were concerns that the new register will list individuals rather than businesses, but it was clarified that individuals can link themselves to businesses and that it will still be possible to search for businesses. Searching by postcode will also be possible. The news that individuals will be able to update their own pages whenever they want was also welcomed. Sara noted that it crucial the conservation profession buys in to the new register, and that the prototype will undergo user testing, plus feedback will be gathered once the register is up and running.
Cross-sector working – many private conservators sometimes work with other heritage professionals, and Sara told us about a joined up piece of work Icon is undertaking with groups such as archaeologists and historic building specialists, to help clients identify the right professional for a particular job.
Recommending colleagues – private conservators often provide recommendations for colleagues, and there was discussion about the best way to do this through a practice’s website. It was agreed that featuring case studies which name relevant colleagues on a website is a good way of showcasing colleagues’ work without directly recommending them.
Promoting private practices – Sara noted that she would be very keen for short films about private practices to be shown through the Icon website.
Conservation training in the UK – this was an issue that everyone was concerned about. Sara noted that Icon is holding a round table meeting in January with education providers, big clients, big institutions and so on, to understand the current situation and ask whether there are other ways of providing training.
Making training events more accessible – it was noted that for conservators who cannot easily travel to London, it would be very helpful if more lectures and conferences were recorded and made available online.
Labour Market Intelligence – Sara explained that Icon is currently undertaking a project with funding from Historic England. This will provide a toolkit which any part of the heritage sector can customise and use to undertake its own research. Icon will issue its own survey once the toolkit is ready, and it is crucial to get input to this as widely as possible.
All in all it was an extremely productive afternoon. Sara ended by thanking everyone for their input, and encouraging further ideas and questions to be sent directly to her – email@example.com. We found her visit hugely enjoyable and useful, and would encourage her to ‘haste ye back’, as we say in Scotland!
Isobel Griffin, Vice Chair, Icon Scotland Group