Let’s do cleaning – the heritage way!

This spring, I had been fortunate to be accepted as a South London Conservation Cleaning volunteer under English Heritage. Working twice a week in a 6-hour shift and based in three different historic houses depending on the days: Down House in Bromley, Eltham Palace in Eltham and Ranger’s House in Blackheath, it was a memorable and fulfilling experience that I will remember for life.

Under the Conservation team, my work primarily focussed on the conservation and handling of historic objects within the houses. As it was the time of the annual clean for most of the houses, most of the historic objects had to be cleaned and prepared for the coming summer peak season. Therefore, under the guidance of my supervisor, I was tasked with the handling and cleaning of objects of different materials. Learning and engaging with the proper techniques and methods to treat and clean the objects had become a big part of my internship, and was the most satisfying as I experience the time and effort spent on each object to ensure that they were in their best condition to display to the visitors. Being a Heritage Studies student, I was thrilled to be able to apply the knowledge of heritage conservation I have gained in my studies into practice, and to share my academic experiences with the staff.

Another aspect of the internship which I found beneficial was working in public. During the half term opening week, I had my first experience of in engaging with the visitors in the historic houses. My task was book-cleaning in the library and at times I had to answer questions asked by the visitors in regards to my role and the task I’m engaging with. At first, I was not very confident in answering these queries due to my inexperience with public speaking. But with the support of my fellow volunteers, I learned the proper way to present myself as a member of English Heritage and by the end of the week, I gained confidence in performing my tasks in public.

Besides that, as a conservation volunteer I also learned another aspect of the conservation role in heritage and this was to adapt in emergency or sudden conditions. There were a few occasions whereby filming or other maintenance activities within the houses were organized in short notices. The conservation staff members handled these occasions professionally and through this, I learned how to quickly adapt to whatever situation given and I think that this skill will definitely benefit me in future.

The South London Conservation Cleaning was an internship experience unlike any other. Working under English Heritage as a volunteer, I was given opportunities to express my opinions and ideas on heritage with the professionals such as the other conservators and curators. The knowledge and skills I have learned from this internship has sparked my interest in the conservation aspect of heritage, and will certainly benefit me in my aim to work in the heritage sector after completing postgraduate.

3rd Year Classical and Archaeological Studies student

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