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22 Mar 2023

Supporting conservation skills: an internship at the Trust

Written by Paul Williams
A woman in a National Trust for Scotland fleece stands behind a wooden desk. The ceiling-high shelves behind her are stacked with paper-wrapped packages, books, scales, and various other items.
Welcome to Alice Law, conservator intern at the Trust
A legacy fund set up in memory of the 6th Marquess of Bute is supporting the next generation of conservators, by preserving heritage and conservation skills at the Trust.

Alice Law joins the Trust on the 30th anniversary year of the passing of Lord Bute, to assist in our care of Scotland’s cultural heritage thanks to a memorial fund set up in in his name. It provides funding for the 12-month Bute internship, designed to help aspiring conservators gain more experience in the field while also safeguarding traditional heritage and conservation skills for the future.

During the internship, newly qualified conservator Alice will learn more about the specialist care involved in preserving Scotland’s historic properties, their interiors and collections of unique artwork and artefacts. Working across a number of projects and properties, Alice will shadow our three conservators and work alongside members of our Collections Care teams as they meticulously look after some of Scotland’s most valued historic buildings and prized collections to enhance her knowledge and skills in preventive conservation techniques.

Alice, who joins the Trust after completing an MSc in Conservation Practice at Cardiff University, having previously undertaken a History of Art MA at the University of Cambridge, said: ‘I’ve grown up going to Scotland and visiting National Trust for Scotland properties, so I feel incredibly excited and privileged to be able to learn more about the workings of historic buildings and the care of their collections in a place that I love. I want to learn as much as I can over the year, to challenge myself with new objects and scenarios, and to work with like-minded people, to build on my university experience and bring it forward into my future career.’

A woman wearing protective purple gloves and a National Trust for Scotland fleece examines wooden blocks used in traditional Victorian printing processes.
Alice takes a closer look at the letterpress printing blocks at Robert Smail’s

Lord Bute’s close ties with the National Trust for Scotland were the catalyst to establish the Marquess of Bute Memorial Fund to support future generations of conservators in the country. Alice joins the Trust to undertake the Bute internship organised in partnership with the Institute of Conservation (Icon), the leading professional body for conservation in the UK.

Lesley Scott, Icon-accredited conservator for the Edinburgh and East region who specialises in conservation of objects, such as social history objects and static/non-working industrial items, will manage Alice and guide her through the internship. Alice will assist Lesley on a programme of work to look at how we care for dynamic objects – for example, those with moving parts, such as clocks and printing presses – as well as experience both preventive and remedial conservation practices. Remedial conservation focuses on the practical treatment and stabilisation of historic objects, whereas preventive conservation aims to slow down deterioration of objects by managing the surrounding environment and monitoring for any changes.

“It will be a real hands-on experience for Alice and we look forward to her joining the Collections team.”
Lesley Scott
Conservator for Edinburgh & East
A smiling woman wearing a navy fleece jacket stands beside a water wheel at the side of an old mill building.

Lesley said: ‘The Bute internship is possible thanks to the generous support of John Crichton-Stuart, the 6th Marquess of Bute. He was an avid supporter of heritage and the arts in Scotland and established a world-renowned art collection as well as owning many historic buildings. He spent over two decades with the Trust as chairman, vice president and later president; it was because of this close connection that we launched an appeal after his death to set up the Marquess of Bute Memorial Fund.

‘Through the internship, Alice will be able to develop her conservation practice in a challenging yet supportive environment where she can get up close to some of Scotland’s treasured cultural objects and collections of artwork and learn from highly experienced professional accredited conservators, working on both preventive and remedial conservation practices.

‘Working with the Trust provides a different aspect in the field of conservation to that of a museum for example. Our collections are displayed in a lived-in place, with the layers of history visible through the surrounding artworks, interiors and furnishings to give a real sense of how they were admired and cherished by their owners in situ, rather than through the glass of display cases.’

A man and a woman, both in National Trust for Scotland fleeces, stand in the workshop of a traditional printing press and examine wooden blocks locked into a metal frame.
Robert Smail’s Operations Manager Gordon Stewart shows Alice the letterpress blocks locked into a chase (metal frame), used to create relief printing.

The enthusiastic response by its members to a fundraising appeal launched by the Trust after the passing of the John Crichton-Stuart in 1993 helped to create the Marquess of Bute Memorial Fund, that was set up in 1995. It was used to fund an annual award called the ‘John Bute Award for Conservation’ where financial grants would be awarded to assist young people to develop skills in the field of conservation while working in association with the Trust.

Since 2008 the internship has been administered by Icon, the Institute of Conservation. This professional body regulates the standard of the internship and acts as an independent support network for both the intern and the hosting institution to solve any problems that may arise. The partnership with Icon also allows the intern to network with other Icon interns across the country to share advice, best practice and experiences.

Heather Doyle, Institute of Conservation Accreditation Manager, said: ‘Icon is delighted to be partnering with the National Trust for Scotland again. The Trust has provided many valuable internship opportunities over the years, enabling fledgling conservators to benefit from the skills, knowledge and experience of their conservation team. Through these roles, we hope Scotland’s rich heritage can be enjoyed by future generations. We wish Alice every success and look forward to seeing the results of her hard work.’

The Bute internship contributes to our vision to deliver Nature, Beauty and Heritage for Everyone. Our 10-year strategy refocuses our vision of caring for, sharing and conserving Scotland’s heritage, and the internship contributes to our conservation and engagement objectives to stabilise and improve the condition of our estate and to be a learning organisation by championing skills to support traditional conservation and innovation.

Our Strategy

Our new strategy – Nature, Beauty & Heritage for Everyone – provides a framework for the future of the National Trust for Scotland as we look towards our centenary in 2031.