We Chaps have been taking a break this week from both the Summer and Winter clean works programs to educate and entertain the public with what exactly it means to be a Conservation Assistant at Hardwick Hall. Last weekend I went back to Huddersfield for a catch up with college friends, we realised that the last time all of us had been together would have been about four years ago! A lot has changed in that time. Instead of talking about teachers, A-Level results and University we were talking jobs, salaries and weddings! Very odd. Once again I got asked the very familiar question of ‘So what is it you actually do?’.
I get this question all the time, from family and friends who know I work for the National Trust, but don’t really know more than that. And the usual response I get when I tell people I am a Conservation Assistant is ‘ a what?’. Explaining exactly what I do is not that easy either, my job is so varied. I either burble on about all the different things I do, or try to sum it up and end up really underselling it. When people do have an idea of what we do it is either a bit of an under-estimation ‘Oh, so you’re a cleaner then?’ or we get a brilliant promotion without the pay-rise ‘You restore the tapestries!’.
This is one of the reasons I love having this blog, if people are really interested I point them in this direction and they can see for themselves what I get up to, I find the pictures help. It is also one of the main aims of Conservation week, showing the public what our jobs entail and just how much work goes in to looking after these magnificent places! The feedback we get is fantastic.
People are often really shocked by how much work we do, how careful we have to be and how much detail we go into. Often these responses are accompanied by people commenting on how rewarding it must be (it really is!) and even the occasional appreciative remark. I love seeing the shock on people’s faces when we talk about everything we do, it makes me realise how hard we work everyday and I feel really accomplished. It is also really lovely to hear people tell us to ‘keep us the good work’ or comment on the standard of the Hall.
Education people about what we do will also hopefully help them to realise what is achievable and why something are they way they are, like the comment about ‘dusty textiles’. It is really difficult for us to hear criticism like this when we spend each and every day working hard, and we care so much about the Hall and collection. Weeks like this will help inform people, so they can rest assured that whatever it looks like we definitely do not neglect the collection.
I really love talking to the public about my job, and sharing all the interesting things I get to do, so I have really enjoyed this week. We have been running Conservation Tours this week and I back-stopped one on thursday. Hearing the volunteer leading it tell the visitors about my job was really quite cool. Their reactions reminded me yet again how lucky I am to work here, and talking about the things that are now second nature to me showed how much we are responsible for on a day-to-day basis.
The Conservation Team had a table set up in the Long Gallery all week, where we invited visitors to come and meet us, and have a chat. All week we have been telling people about what we do, daily, weekly and on an annual basis. We have also been offering advice to people with antiques of their own in need of TLC. The main topics of conversation have been the rush matting, pests and the tapestries. I collected a few sample pests for the visitors to have a look at, and think I may have weirded out one or two people with my passion for pests!
All through-out the week we have been delivering talks about various elements of conservation. I have been giving a talk on the Gideon Tapestries in the Long Gallery. I can’t believe how much I enjoy writing and giving talks and tours now, when only a few years ago doing the same at uni was practically torture and I was always so nervous. Today you struggle to get me to shut up once I start going on about something conservation related! Which you may have noticed in these long rambly blog posts.
Hopefully this week will have enlightened a few visitors to what conservation means, and how much work goes on behind the scenes at Trust properties. Conservation is such a prominent issue at Hardwick; there are always textiles away in workshops and the issue is getting more pressing with increasing visitor numbers. If we can inform our visitors more about the issues it will make our jobs much easier, and more understanding will hopefully lead to more opportunities for us too. I hope a few people will go away looking at heritage properties differently now, and will be more informed about why certain decisions are made. Even is not, we have had a lovely week out on the front lines, and are looking forward to doing it all again in September!