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.

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