Conservators in Lockdown: Notes from our ISG Committee on Life and Work, Part 3

In today’s post, we hear from Tatjana Wischniowski [Events Team] and Anna Zwagerman [Events Team, Iconnect & Communication]

Tatjana Wischniowski is a painting conservator based in St Andrews

20200220_140750 - Kopie
Here are some snapshots of my pen and ink drawings of the shells I found while walking or running at the beach (East Sands and West Sands). I go running 5 days a week since the lockdown, there are a great number of interesting shells I have been seeing and still need to draw.
I am particularly fascinated by the shapes and lines and traces of colour that can be detected on those shells, giving them their character.
The magnifying lamp I would normally use for conservation work, such as consolidation of flaking paint layers or closing tears in canvas paintings, now helps to see the pattterns on small shells.
Anna Zwagerman is the Conservation Officer at Culture Perth and Kinross
I have been at home with my toddler since the start of lockdown.
At Culture Perth & Kinross (CPK) we were backup for redeployment into essential roles, but this did not prove necessary. I have kept up to date with work emails, an article I wrote before lockdown was published in Icon news (see link), and I cycled around the city with said toddler to post letters through people’s doors asking them to donate their rainbows to the museum. I am waiting for news from both the nursery and work to see when I can get back!

Conservators in Lockdown: Notes from our ISG Committee on Life and Work, Part 2

Now eleven weeks into lockdown it is a good time to take stock of how we have all been affected by this unprecedented period both professionally and personally. In a spirit of connecting to our conservation community here in Scotland and further afield, we the ISG Committee hope to reduce feelings of isolation and open channels of communication by sharing our experiences. 

Our second instalment is from Secretary Gwen Thomas:

I am the Collections Care Officer for City of Edinburgh Council’s Museums & Galleries. From around March 10th I expected a lockdown to come our way – one of my colleagues has family living in Italy and France so we were kept abreast of what was happening there, and saw it was only a matter of time before we were working from home too. From around March 13th council staff were told to take our laptops home, if we had them each day. I tried to prepare our store by cleaning as deeply as possible, tidying the lab, and emptying the fridge and waste bins each day. On the very last day I was allowed in the office – March 20th, by which point everyone else was working from home – I had a large delivery of packing materials booked in and there was no way I could divert two large pallets of boxes and acid free tissue to my house. So I spent the afternoon squirrelling Really useful boxes throughout the store, and getting rid of all the combustible waste that came with the delivery! Safety first.


I have been working from home since March 23rd, which has meant setting up a makeshift office in my spare room and having tea breaks with my dogs (in person) or with colleagues over video chat. It’s been difficult adjusting to being almost entirely desk based; normally I will mix and match practical and computer tasks throughout the day, and I am used to walking across the city between our museum venues on a regular basis. Being sedentary is not for me! However I am lucky to be able to walk to our store once a week and check the building and collection with a colleague. I’ve been delivering online training sessions for colleagues, including a crash course in pest identification and maintaining environmental sensors for my amazing visitor services colleagues who are checking other venues that I can’t get to on foot. I’ve been so touched by their enthusiasm and willingness to carry out collections monitoring tasks, and their vigilance when reporting any issues. We’ve already seen water ingress from a broken tap, and clothes moth numbers increase. Or rather, I haven’t, but everyone has been outstanding at communicating everything they have found!


I’ve been remotely monitoring our Hanwell sensors. However, quite a few batteries were flat and I had put in an order for replacements just before lockdown, which I fortunately managed to redivert to my home address. Then came the long drawn out process of posting (by mail or by hand) the suitable number of batteries to the different colleagues checking different museum venues. A mundane task but so important during a period of under-occupancy in our buildings.


An interventive conservation project has been in progress throughout this period, and I have kept in regular touch with the freelance conservator about the work, including video meetings so he can show us the problems and progress in real time. He is still able to work as he is alone in his workshop, but other considerations like transporting the objects back up and then reinstalling them are very much on my mind. We were able to arrange an interim payment, fortunately, as the cashflow of freelancers is also a real worry for our sector.


I have also been working on data cleaning and materials guidance for our collections review project which we are now trying to do from home. Tricky when you aren’t with the collection! It means our project staff have to do quite a lot of mundane data editing with none of the fun of working with objects. However, we have also started working on blogs and other online content; this means that when we are checking the store we are also taking photography requests. Some mornings it almost feels normal, except that the two of us are dodging around each other trying to maintain a 2m distance. I really can’t wait until I can get back into the store properly and start filling our beautiful new boxes.

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

Now eleven weeks into lockdown it is a good time to take stock of how we have all been affected by this unprecedented period both professionally and personally. In a spirit of connecting to our conservation community here in Scotland and further afield, we the ISG Committee hope to reduce feelings of isolation and open channels of communication by sharing our experiences. 

Our first blog post is from our Chair, Christa Gerdwilker:


The Canine Chickens

This has been a time for counting your chickens or in my case, maybe, dogs. It has been a time for appreciating what we have around us – home, work, garden, pets, partner, neighbours, communication technology, keyworkers, NHS, village shop –  and realising what we miss – my choirs, hairdresser, trips to the beach, live music, meeting friends, hugs, family and so much more. It is a time where mutual support melts your heart and careless actions can break it. Seeing the response from conservators across the UK in collating PPE and trying to help in this health crisis has made me even more proud of my profession, if that is possible. I am so impressed but not surprised by how Icon and its members have rapidly adapted to finding new ways of keeping connected, keeping engaged and developing new ways of working, providing support and sharing knowledge and expertise. While at the same time many of us are faced with so much uncertainty about our futures which we all had to work so hard for in the first place. Our work tends to be more than just a job, it is a vocation and a highly skilled one, too. The best there is. So it hurt when many of us were told that we weren’t essential to business operations. And it is devastating to hear stories of possible museum closures and job losses. While those of us in good health and with extra time have enjoyed the glorious weather this spring, it has been a deceiving time, disquieting, the calm before the storm perhaps. I will try and remember to count all my ‘chickens’ to help me get through the uncertain times ahead and look forward to those other things I have missed but which will come again.


Lockdown blog by Dougal – Christa’s dog

Yesterday was the first day I got back to the beach in an ETERNITY! And only because my brother by another mother (and father) had to go to the vet near the beach. It was glorious! We have been staying at home, ‘shielding’ because my other human is ‘vulnerable’.  For the first 6 weeks of this lockdown Christa was, in fact, pretty much locked into her new office. Apart from lots of trips to the kitchen for cups of coffee and treats for her; not me. Serves her right that her waistline is expanding. We have a garden to play in and woods nearby and it’s been great not having to go anywhere in the car. But for the last 5 weeks she has been ‘furried’ or something and she has not been allowed to work. Her hair has, indeed gone a bit furry. You’d think she’d use this extra time to play with me. But oh no, she’s painted the house, she’s hitting a big stone with a hammer and metal stick and she’s still in her office a lot looking at that screen and tapping on the desk. Apparently she is trying to learn some new tricks. And she does some weird howling at the computer on the days she would normally go to choir. But we have had more cuddle time in the evenings on the sofa. And she’s even sketched me. Apparently she has to go back to work soon and I don’t know how I will cope with that. I think she is a bit unsure, too.

News and Ideas Exchange 2020 Online Seminar Series

The Icon Scotland Group is excited to be launching a new, online ideas sharing and networking event based on the successful format of the ‘Paper Conservators in Scotland: 5 Minute Presentations’ series. We are looking for volunteers, from all disciplines and locations, to contribute to these events. You could tell us about a project you are working on, or some research or training you have done during lockdown. It’s fine to present a ‘work in progress’ and it can be a great way to get ideas and suggestions from colleagues.

We are asking for:

  1. A 5-minute talk with an accompanying PowerPoint presentation to share visual content with the event attendees. The presentations will be conducted via Zoom and a moderator will be on hand to introduce the presentations and handle the question and answer portion of the event as an informal and friendly discussion.
  2. 3 short tweets about your presentation so that our social media team can publicise this exciting event in real time and encourage wider discussion on the topic.

If you would like to give a presentation at this event please send your name and the title of your talk to by 24 May. Dates and times for the event will be released as soon as they are finalised and we will do our best to accommodate all those who are interested. If you have any questions please do not hesitate to get in contact.


Screen Shot 2020-05-13 at 09.42.07

Paper Conservators in Scotland: 5 Minute Presentations (2015 Event)

Historic Environment Scotland Survey

In these unprecedented times, Historic Environment Scotland have launched a new survey to understand the impacts of this fast-changing situation on the historic environment sector across Scotland. 

 To paint as broad and accurate a picture as possible, please take the time to share your views. You can help us understand the current position and outlook as businesses, organisations and community groups within Scotland’s historic environment sector. 

The survey will be open until Thursday 30 April and takes less than 15 minutes to complete!
Take the survey here

Conservators in Lockdown Keeping in Touch


Now that we are very much in lockdown until further notice, Icon Scotland Group Committee want to know how you are managing. Are you still able to work or if not are you coping in isolation? Let us know what you are doing… are you using your skills to tackle other activities? [see mobile making above].

Would you like to share your experiences with the conservation community in Scotland? Perhaps you could contribute some training or give us an insight into your work [or lack of it as a result of the pandemic]. A single or series of photographs would be welcome or perhaps a vlog could be a good way to keep in touch. We are very keen to hear from you, let’s keep connected…please send contributions to…

Thank you and stay safe.

Emergency response during a period of lockdown

Some thoughts about emergency response during a period of lockdown

By Julie Bon, ACR, Head of Collections Care, National Library of Scotland

Now that most of us are working from home, and unable to access our collections, this might be a good time to take a look at your emergency plan: can it still be enacted, if necessary, during this period of lockdown? There are some important staffing issues that you may need to consider:

  • Are the members of staff listed in your plan still available for call out?
  • Are these members of staff at risk, or living with someone in the at-risk category? This may mean that they would not be able to respond to an emergency situation and may need to temporarily come off your call-out list
  • How will staff be able to travel to site? Are they reliant on public transport and is this still available? Can they attend on foot? Do they have their own transport, and would there be somewhere for them to park that would not affect emergency vehicle access? If access to site will be difficult for some members of staff, then they too may need to come off you call-out list temporarily
  • Are there other members of staff that could be temporarily drafted in for emergency call outs? The above issues will still need to be considered, as will ensuring a varied coverage of skills and seniority so that the emergency plan can be enacted safely and effectively
  • Are there members of staff that can be involved in emergency response remotely? Perhaps there are calls and other tasks that can be coordinated remotely? Perhaps key staff, like conservators, can be available for video calls in order to assist with the incident assessment and give guidance for staff on the ground in terms of identifying priority tasks?
  • The lockdown is likely to be a changing situation, with some staff showing symptoms and becoming unavailable through self-isolation. Is there a way that you can be in touch with your emergency response volunteers regularly to check their status so that you have up-to-date information? What’s App, Doodle Polls or Survey Monkey might be useful tools to help you with this
  • Do you need to plan a procedure for isolating volunteers after an incident? Should volunteers self-isolate after responding due to the nature of salvage work and the challenges it poses to social distancing?

There are a number of other issues to consider during this lockdown period. If thought is given to these in advance it will make any emergency response more efficient:

  • Will staff need a letter and ID to demonstrate that they are considered essential staff if they are called out in an emergency situation? Who in your organisation can write and sign this letter and how can it be distributed? Can this be actioned now so that it is ready if required?
  • If you are drafting new recruits into your emergency response call-out list, do they know what would be expected of them in an emergency situation? Give some thought to an emergency volunteer role description that could be shared with recruits (and those that are more experienced) detailing the key responsibilities and tasks they would be asked to undertake. This will be useful for training purposes in the future too.
  • Are there any training resources that can be shared with new recruits? These could also be a useful refresher for more experienced staff who may currently have more time for training than usual. It is worthwhile remembering that different organisations will have different salvage approaches but some good general online resources include:
  • Will you be able to access emergency response materials and equipment as usual? Have you been asked to donate PPE to the NHS? It is clearly essential that we support our health workers but consider that you may need some supplies in an emergency situation and there will be no possibility of purchasing additional PPE
  • This could be a good opportunity to consider the distribution of disaster equipment across sites (if you have multiple sites) or even where they are located within buildings. It would be a good time to clearly communicate this information to volunteers so that they can easily find what they need.
  • Are there local emergency response networks that you can hook into? Are there other local heritage organisations in the area that are in a similar position? Perhaps you can make contact and offer to share support and resources in an emergency situation? This might be particularly important when it comes to PPE. There are active groups in Edinburgh and Glasgow but perhaps now is the time to build local resilience networks across the country?


We all hope that the worst will not happen but we need to be ready in case it does. If thought is given to the above questions then you will be in a better position to respond, or help others to respond, should an emergency occur. Good luck and stay safe.

Covid-19 General advice from the wider sector and potential funding for small businesses in Scotland and beyond

In this second blog post, Icon Scotland Group has compiled a list of resources for freelancers and others. We will be expanding on this list and will endeavour to keep conservators in Scotland up to date with whatever information they require:

Scottish Government:

Support for small businesses, helpline:


Creative Scotland:

Includes helpline, grants for small businesses, existing grantholders


Built Environment Forum Scotland:

Comprehensive list of sites and links to support advice and funding

Cultural Heritage Advice on COVID-19 (Coronavirus)


Useful accountant’s advice (Scotland):


For Charities in Scotland (Museums and others )

3rd Sector resilience advice from SCVO



Arts Council England:

Package of 160M grants for small business in creative sector (not Scotland obviously)



The Art Newspaper’s useful list (by country) of help and guidance for small arts businesses:


For Conservators

Icon’s Covid-19 resource page:


VDR (Germany – by region)

Gut durch die Krise kommen – Aktuelle Links und Hinweise für Restauratoren



Handling Library materials and collections during a Pandemic

useful web links and guidance


Stay safe and keep well

Covid-19 Government Support Scheme for the Self-Employed

In this first Covid-19 support blog post, Icon Scotland Group has compiled the latest information regarding Government support for the self-employed, summarised by Business Gateway below:

Business Gateway: UK Self-Employment Support Package

How do I claim the help?

  • HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) will use existing information to identify those eligible and will invite applications
  • The application will require them to confirm that they meet the eligibility requirements
  • It will be paid straight into a bank account, which eligible taxpayers will need to confirm on their application form
  • People do not need to contact HMRC now if they are eligible HMRC will contact them directly
  • The scheme will pay 80% of average monthly profits over the last three years, up to £2,500 a month, for three months initially
  • The money, backdated till March, will arrive directly into people’s bank accounts from HMRC as a lump sum for all three months, but not until June
  • The grants will be taxable and will need to be declared on tax returns by January 2022
  • At least half your income needs to have come from self-employment as registered on the 2019-20 tax return filed in January or averaged over the three previous years
  • Company owners who pay themselves a dividend are not covered

For more information find a link to the HMRC website below:

HMRC [Covid-19] Self Employment Income Support Scheme

This scheme will allow you to claim a taxable grant worth 80% of your trading profits up to a maximum of £2,500 per month for the next 3 months. This may be extended if needed.


Self-employment Income Support Scheme FAQs

Furthermore, Ii you are self-employed and not claiming any benefits, you may be entitled to claim Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) or Universal Credit.


Spotlight on Scotland’s Private Sector

Sara Crofts meets up with private conservators in Scotland

Isobel Griffin

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 – 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