Conservators in Lockdown: Notes from our ISG Committee on Life and Work, Part 4

Catherine Haworth, our Deputy Secretary, shares her experience in this blog post:

A few lockdown thoughts from a Preventive Conservation Mum

So, how many weeks are we on now? To be honest I lost track after about five. Although I feel like I’ve had a couple of phases to my lockdown.

First there was the pre-lockdown scramble, which I think we could all see coming, but still felt rushed and surreal. At that point we didn’t have any understanding of what our new lives would be like. We tidied labs and work spaces, made sure nobody left any packets of biscuits behind (pest management never far from the thoughts of a Preventive professional), and dutifully copied all the files we would need for doing some work at home. I also panic bought Sylvanian families, whilst everyone else was after hand sanitizer and bread flour, as my daughter turned four on the first day of lockdown.

Then we were all at home. Day one had the distraction of a birthday. We had princess dresses and cake to get us through! This couldn’t be all bad? But birthdays don’t last forever and there was work to be done and home schooling to be attempted.

The second phase had started. How does the family unit undertake it’s 1.6 FTE of work, school a P3 and entertain a four year old? Whilst also trying to learn new methods of working and schooling. I’d not heard of Zoom in mid-March, now we use it for meetings, family gatherings and, piano and dance lessons!

Finding new patterns to the day was the key to us all surviving. The kids needed routine and I needed some space to think. We’d all been trying to work round the kitchen table. This was not producing the desired result! Now you’ll find me in a quiet spot at 7am, cup of tea in hand and environmental monitoring graphs to look through. After a couple of hours it’s then time to swap roles, and we have our day of schooling. At 3pm another slot of quiet time with many thanks to David Attenborough and the BBC, without whom this family would not have survived lockdown.

How do you preserve the collections from home? As I mentioned we’ve been doing daily checks of our environmental monitoring system, which allows us to pick up on unusual patterns and check out areas where humidifiers or air handling are not behaving as they should. Also, in addition to the security presence on site, Collections Care team members have been visiting all our sites on a regular basis. It’s been my job to visit the collections at the National Museum of Rural Life. We’ve had issues with clothes moth in organic collections here previously, and sadly on my first lockdown visit there were enough moths to make me take a closer look. Luckily I found the source, and was able to put a couple of saddles into the freezer. On a later visit I found moth again, and deposited a stuffed cat in the freezer!


Cat for freezing

Now we’re looking to re-opening and while front of house work out visitor routes and designers come up with signage, our team has been working out how to clean displays whilst maintaining social distancing. This means some of our usual methods must be put on hold as we try to limit the amount of working at height and other jobs that require working closely together. We have long poles, largely designed for window cleaning, adapted with various microfibre heads. But my favourite is the air blower, which (gently) blasts fluff into the air, although you do have to go back and clean up the mess the next day! But I’m happy to go back to the National Museum of Rural Life as I also get to take a peek at the farm animals, and was delighted to be able to meet Georgina the Clydesdale foal.

Georgina and her mum, Anna



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