NTS unveils conservation plan

The National Trust for Scotland is to undertake a £1.3m initiative to catalogue and photograph 100,000 objects. Rob Sharp reports
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Rob Sharp
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The National Trust for Scotland (NTS) has revealed details of a £1.3m conservation project that will involve at least 100,000 objects from its collections being catalogued and photographed.

Under Project Reveal, led by NTS collections manager Susanna Hillhouse, a team of about 30 will record items in 47 of NTS’s 52 properties with collections, over the course of 20 months.

The NTS hopes the records will ultimately be available to view by the public online, as well as allowing better interpretation of the objects in situ by museum staff.

It will be the first time the NTS will have an accurate record of the number of objects in its collection.

“The project will update our collections management database,” says Hillhouse. “Although the database is there, and we have records of everything, it’s a clean sweep to get a baseline of reliable centrally held data and, crucially, the photography.”

Last year, the NTS announced its aim to generate £8m-£10m of additional income by 2019 through efficiency changes, more paying visitors and members, and a rise in donations.

In June, a restructuring programme was unveiled, designed to reduce a £47m conservation backlog and to save £4m a year. The programme involves a £17m investment plan for some of the NTS’s properties, including Culzean Castle on the Ayrshire coast and Brodie Castle in Moray. Originally 142 of the NTS’s 540 staff were believed to be at risk of compulsory redundancy, although that number was reduced to 90 in October.

Challenging project

“This represents the first NTS-wide conservation project that’s part of the new way of working,” says Hillhouse.

“It’s a continuation of what was happening last year. We have a diverse range of collections that are geographically dispersed. Most are permanently on display in their settings, so it’s a challenging project. We will be doing inventory work in historic interiors.”

Staff working on Project Reveal will have to photograph the collections while properties are open to the public.

“It will be of interest to visitors to see our teams at work, and they will be happy to talk to visitors and explain what they’re doing,” says Hillhouse. “For those visiting, it will be an insight into what is often a hidden piece of work.”

The NTS is recruiting 28 temporary posts for the project. These will include regional collections management teams and photographers. Two curators will also join the curatorial team within the wider Collections & Conservation Services grouping.

According to Hillhouse, the teams, supported by the permanent curators and conservators, will “work rapidly through all of our collections, carrying out an audit, review of collections information and, crucially, high-level photography of every item in our collection”.

Catalogue information will be enhanced in relation to an object’s provenance. The database will eventually feature more precise and powerful digital search technology.

Hillhouse says: “Our core principles are clear about conservation and education, as well as providing access to our collections to a diverse group of people.

“We’re doing this at a point in history when you can do some quite exciting stuff with the data you generate. It’s a route to widening access to things that are otherwise quite hard to reach.”

You can follow the progress of the Reveal Project on the @NTSCollections Twitter feed. Vacancies will be advertised on the NTS website and the Museums Association 'Find a Job' page.


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