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



‘Take 5’ Webinar

Take 5

5 speakers | 5 talks | 5 minutes

20.08.2020 | 4-5 pm | Zoom
contribute before 31.07.2020

Following on from our successful ‘Knowledge Exchange’ webinar, Icon Scotland are pleased to invite contributions to our first ‘Take 5’ webinars. The one-hour online event will feature 5 x 5-minute presentations followed by a Q&A session.

We are inviting contributions from across the heritage conservation sector: whether it’s a case study you’d like to present, a project you are working on, or some research or training you have done during the 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:

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.

If you would like to give a presentation at this event please send your name and the title of your talk to by 31st of July.

The webinar is planned to take place on Thursday the 20th August via Zoom.


If you have any questions please do not hesitate to get in contact!


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.

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