SHARE Conservation & Archaeology Networks: Visit to Wiltshire &Swindon History Centre

SHARE Conservation Network and SHARE Museums East Archaeology Networks: Visit to Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre

by Deborah Walton, Conservation Network Co-ordinator and UCM Regional Conservation Officer (Cambs and Peterborough)

History CentreAt the end of January a group of conservators and archaeologists from the East of England went on an expedition to Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre.  When I organised this I thought it was a really good idea.  Wasn’t so sure when it came to leaving the house at ‘seriously!’ o’clock in the morning (5am!)

The History Centre combines a huge range of heritage services, essentially everything except the Wiltshire museums.  The staff had very kindly agreed to show us their facilities, host a series of talks about the types of work they do and critically, how the shared building works.

TourOne of the advantages of a shared building is that it makes it easier for staff and projects to be utilised by the different divisions.  The digitisation room is used part time for one project, but because of its location the room and equipment can be by used by others when it is free, and the digitiser has access to other expertise whenever needed as ‘little questions’ come up in the course of the work.  Some of the staff are also shared. Education expertise can in this way be available to all the service branches in a way which would be almost impossible if everyone were still in separate buildings.

Paper LabWe had a really informative tour of the building. I was particularly impressed by the foresight which has meant that the paper lab has an enormous wall (with no obstacles) with a stage which they can use to work on very large objects such as maps.

The objects conservation team is split in two sections, income generation and support for Wiltshire heritage organisations, as well as hosting placement students.  The flexibility of the space (all the benches are on wheels for example) available means that all the conservators can benefit from access to more equipment than they would otherwise have access to, and also are able to share expertise and thus increase the value of their offer.

ArchivesThe History Centre also houses Wiltshire and Swindon Archives and Local Studies Centre.  We were able to examine one of the many strong rooms which were built to be BS:5454 compliant (pre 2012 update).  The amount of air conditioning ducting was truly amazing.  I think we were also all struck by not only the amount of space which is recommended (and that is actually needed for manoeuvring given the size of many documents) but also how vulnerable that space is to being filled.

StorageWe were particularly interested in the adaptation of curtain hanging techniques which had been used to allow compact storage of many large maps.  This is another piece of work which has come about because of the presence of the paper conservation team in the same building.

In the afternoon we were treated to presentations from the different teams who work in the building and had the chance to interrogate everyone about what they do and how they take advantage of the changes in working the shared building has brought about.

Made it home at 8.40pm after a very long day, but it was well worth the visit to see that shared services can work.

Very grateful thanks to all the staff in Wiltshire who gave up so much of their time to give us all a very enjoyable and helpful day.  Special thanks to Beth Werrett who was our main contact and all the following who were speakers and tour guides:

  • Peter Tyas (Arts Service)
  • Dorothy Treasure (Wiltshire Buildings Record)
  • Helen Williams, Tim Burge, Kelly Deakin and Wendy Somerville Woodiwis (Conservation and Museums Advisory Service)
  • Terry Bracher (Archives)
  • Laurel Miller (Education)
  • Melanie Pomeroy Kellinger (Archaeology Service)

Below are a selection of images from the day.

Unlocking Collections: Hearts, Minds and Digital Directions


Rachel Macfarlane
Project Officer
Colchester and Ipswich Museum Service
Tel: 01473 433556 or 01206 506936  Mob: 07961 231642

Colchester and Ipswich Museum Service has been piloting a new way of using museum collections. The “Unlocked” project took 15 objects from the world collections at Ipswich and 15 objects from the Roman archaeology at Colchester and ran with them.  Not literally (don’t panic, conservators!), but by making community connections, linking responses to documentation, and using digital technology – we have explored many new directions.

IPSMG. P.R.1928-75.39 - Duck carvingThe 30 objects include a carved wooden duck, a Roman tile with footprints and a jet bead in the shape of a bear. They are on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest and have all featured in social media campaigns, comments, tweets and pin-boards. Each object has sparked discussion and inspired creative activity. Over 2200 people and 32 artists have sculpted, drawn, published, presented, computer programmed, filmed, edited, laughed and performed in response to these 30 objects.

It’s exciting to think how communities have connected, and will continue to connect with museum collections over time. How the documentation of people’s responses to the 30 objects will leave a legacy of today for tomorrow.  How digital technology can act as a tool to document but to also present new ideas.

As the ‘Unlocked’ project enters its final weeks we are reflecting on the learning and experiences of everyone involved, and asking you, if and how this contributes to our development as a sector. Our ‘Unlocking Collections’ seminar will take place at the re-opened Colchester Castle on Thursday 22nd May.  We would encourage you to join the discussion, bring your own challenges, and let’s explore how documentation and digital technology can capture audience responses to collections.

Click here to book for this exciting seminar at Colchester Castle.


_DSC5356The ‘Unlocked’ project team have joined the SHARE East Community Cohort and will be attending the Working With Communities seminar at the Museum of East Anglian Life on Tuesday the 29th April. Working closely with partners at Suffolk County Council the activity between Ipswich Museum and its community groups has been shortlisted for a ‘Raising the Bar’ award, recognising its contribution to improving young people’s aspirations and achievements in Suffolk. In Stowmarket we look forward to hearing colleague’s ideas about how to develop relationships with community groups.

Click here to book for the Community Engagement Seminar on 29th April.

Invitation to Tender – Forward Planning Cohort Facilitator

Due to the retirement of our previous facilitators, SHARE are inviting tenders for the role of facilitator of the Forward Planning cohorts in Suffolk and Essex during the period April 2014 to March 2015.  

Over the past 3 years we have been developing a ‘cohort approach’ to working with museums on a variety of issues: among them volunteer development, family learning, rationalisation and digital strategy. We are looking to continue with Forward Planning in Essex and Suffolk having already run successful cohorts in Cambridgeshire, Norfolk, Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire.

For full information, please download the information document below:

[prettyfilelink size=”” src=”” type=”doc”]Invitation to Tender  – Forward Planning Cohort Facilitator[/prettyfilelink]

To discuss the role, please contact Simon Floyd at or on 01603 638141.

Sign Up to SHARE e-News