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6 Nov 2018

Circle of support

Written by Alison McAllister
Honorary advisors and Trust staff gathered together at Newhailes
Honorary advisors and Trust staff gathered together at Newhailes
Our honorary advisors provide a circle of support that helps us to tell the stories of our places.

The first meeting of the Trust’s honorary advisors was held recently at Newhailes House, Musselburgh. Our honorary advisors – specialist volunteers – are extremely valued members of our organisation as they help us to tell the many stories of our many places.

The day was organised by David Hopes, Head of Collections & Interiors (Policy), who felt it was important for our curators, conservators, collections specialists and honorary advisors to gather together and meet each other – many for the first time. The event also provided an opportunity for discussions to be held regarding ongoing and planned project work. This gave staff the opportunity to tap into individual advisors’ areas of expertise and, for those who hadn’t yet met, to form the foundations of working relationships that will benefit the Trust and advisors alike.

The event was packed full of informative talks, with attendees hearing from no fewer than 11 Trust employees in the curatorial and conservation sectors of the Trust. Roger Williams, (Retired) Master of Ceremonial Music and Organist to the University of Aberdeen, and our Honorary Advisor for Music, also spoke about music within the Trust, focusing on the collections at Newhailes House. After hearing talks on volunteering with the Trust, our Collections activity for 2018–19 and the Morton Photography Project, the day was rounded off with a guided tour of Newhailes House and grounds.

Guided tour of Newhailes
Our honorary advisors enjoyed a guided tour of Newhailes

We very much value the technical know-how, skill and experience our honorary advisors bring, and this event gave us the chance to thank them for their hard work and commitment.

Simon Skinner, our Chief Executive Officer, introduced the event and stressed the importance of making sure the Trust remains relevant. He credited Jennifer Melville, Head of Curatorial & Conservation Services, and Susie Hillhouse, Collections Manager, with the birth of Project Reveal – our Trust-wide collections digitisation project. This project has resulted in an updated database with high quality images and unique object numbers for every item in the Trust collections.

Mel Houston, Preventive Conservator, leads a talk at Newhailes.
Mel Houston, Preventive Conservator, giving a talk

The Trust cares for over 300,000 objects in over 50 places, including one of the greatest collections of art in Scotland. These collections bring us closer to the people who lived and worked in our buildings. With our collections now digitised, we can plan exhibitions and use our unique collection items to provide unique experiences for our visitors. We can change the way in which our places tell their stories, ensuring that as stories evolve, the objects on display and the way in which we share them also change. This will help us to inspire a broader range of visitors, giving them a reason to visit our places time and time again.

Our honorary advisors have been – and will continue to be – instrumental in helping us to tell the stories of our places. At Brodick Castle, on the Isle of Arran, we’ve been able to review the collection and seek advice on relating the fabric of the building with the individuals who once lived there. In Glasgow, Holmwood is part of an ongoing conservation project which aims to present the house as it was when originally designed by Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson in 1857, thus preserving an important record of Thomson’s work. Holmwood is proving to be a popular destination for events and so it’s important that we balance its modern-day needs with sympathy to Thomson’s design. Our advisors will soon be called upon to share their expertise on what kind of floor covering to lay.

Ascending the stairs to Newhailes House
Ascending the stairs to Newhailes House

Everything tells a story – from clothes to candlesticks and teapots to oil paintings. By keeping so many historical artefacts in their original setting, we’re able to paint a vivid picture of Scotland’s rich and varied past.

Amy Drysdale, People, Policy and Engagement Officer, says: ‘Sir John Stirling Maxwell, founding member of the Trust, is quoted as having said: “The National Trust for Scotland serves the nation as a cabinet into which it can put some of its valuable things, where they will be perfectly safe for all time, and where they are open to be seen and enjoyed by everyone.” Our honorary advisors provide us with the key to open locked cabinets and between them have a wealth of knowledge, with areas of expertise ranging from music and Burns to weapons and preventive conservation.’

Newhailes on a beautiful sunny day with our Omega sign of Love in the foreground
It was a lovely day to explore Newhailes.

At some of our places, not much has changed in the last 30 years – but we want to change that now. We want to try and bring our places and their collections into the present century. We want to inspire both rural and urban visitors, and we need to seek advice on how best to do so.

We’re grateful to our honorary advisors for providing us with a circle of support that helps us to protect Scotland’s heritage for future generations.

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