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Find out why, what and how from Suzanne Lamb, Group conservator, the National Trust for Scotland

It's great being a conservator! We are the people responsible for looking after the extraordinary variety of items you see on display in historic houses, museums and art galleries across Britain. The collections in the National Trust for Scotland are especially unusual as they are presented in their original historic room settings, rather than shown behind glass in a display case.

A conservator's work is very varied. In my job with the Trust, I am often out and about working at one of the 19 properties I help care for, which range from impressive castles to humble crofts. And unexpected events happen too, such as water leaking from a burst pipe or a blocked gutter into a room with historic collections. Back in the office, I write reports, plan projects and carry out research.

Key elements of my work include monitoring the internal environment (light, temperature, relative humidity), monitoring and controlling pest activity, and advising on housekeeping and staff training conservators in the Trust also arrange treatments, e.g., repairs and specialist cleaning of a huge range of objects such as wooden and upholstered furniture or paintings with gilt frames. These are sent to freelance conservators with specialist training and everything is carefully packed and protected to prevent damage during transport.

A conservator works as a member of many teams and I work every day with professional colleagues such as building surveyors, curators, the registrar and archivist. I also work with colleagues in the Trust's Marketing and Hospitality departments as I may be asked to make sure that an event in a property - perhaps a champagne reception or an episode of a TV costume drama – can be held safely and not damage our collections.

There are more and more ways now to become a conservator but, typically, a university degree and a sound background in science are required. The best way to find out more is to look on the Icon website (see links below) and investigate the 'Careers and Training' tab. And don’t forget to explore volunteering and work placement opportunities which provide invaluable experience.

Here's a 10-point checklist.

1. love history.
2. love beautiful and ordinary household things alike - furniture, ceramics, paintings.
3. be able to write reports and give presentations.
4. have a head for heights - some of our work requires ladders or working on scaffolding.
5. enjoy working with people – and be diplomatic.
6. be patient and meticulous - conservation techniques can be slow and intricate.
7. love a job that is varied.
8. be able to work under pressure and on your own (at times).
9. be an instinctive problem-solver and decision maker.
10. be practical and well-organised, and enjoy working with your hands.
Much of our work goes on behind the scenes and is often only noticeable when we don’t do it! However, conservators enjoy sharing with the public what it is we do and how we do it, and that often helps others understand how much it costs to look after our collections.

The work can sometimes be dirty and demanding - during the closed season lots of specialist conservation cleaning and moving of furniture is carried out in preparation for the open season in Easter.

The properties can sometimes be quite cold in the winter so we have to make sure we wrap up warm!

It can be quite a challenging job at times, all of our properties are very different and each offers its own problems and issues to solve but it keeps things interesting and no two days are ever the same.

Suzanne Lamb, Group Conservator, the National Trust for Scotland.

1. Delivers the long-term care of objects of cultural collections for the benefit of future generations

2. Uses the principles of scientific research and analysis to inform decision making.

More information about Collections Conservation will be on the Trust’s website soon, but in the meantime some useful reading and links are:

The National Trust Manual of Housekeeping - Butterworth-Heinmann
The Museum Environment - Garry Thomson - Butterworth-Heinmann

Websites and
Collections Link and Collections Trust websites both provide a wealth of detailed information on many aspects of
Collections Conservation.
ICON (the Institute of Conservation) is the professional body for those working in the field of the conservation of cultural heritage. It provides lots of information on events, training, jobs and career development.

Conservation Online -
The National Trust for Scotland -
The National Trust -
Historic Scotland -
English Heritage -

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