Skip to main content

Hannah Bristow

Hannah Bristow Icon Conference 2019, Belfast
Conservator (historic ships): National Museum of the Royal Navy

Thanks to the generous support of the Anna Plowden Trust/Clothworkers’ Foundation CPD grant, I was able to attend the Icon Conference 2019, New Perspectives: Contemporary Conservation Thinking & Practice, held in Belfast. This triennial conference, organised by The Institute of Conservation, brings together conservators from across the UK and abroad for two days of talks, poster presentations, demonstrations and drop-in sessions. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to showcase my work in the form of a poster on conservation work I undertook on a Second World War ship’s asdic (sonar) dome raised from Portsmouth Harbour and now at the National Museum of the Royal Navy (NMRN). I was proud to contribute my first conference poster to this event, and was delighted to receive much interest and insightful feedback from other delegates. I too drew inspiration from the diverse collection of posters on display produced by colleagues from other conservation specialisms.

I was very fortunate to attend a pre-conference tour of National Museums Northern Ireland, including a visit to the Ulster Folk Museum, Ulster Transport Museum, and the main off-site store. I learned about the way the museum cares for and brings to life its huge array of open-display collections, as well as how the NMNI team are coordinating efforts for a re-housing project to improve the storage conditions and documentation of their vehicle collection. All of these topics chimed with my work at the National Museum of the Royal Navy, which includes caring for ships and objects on board on open display as well as working on a large project to relocate the Royal Marines Museum collection to improved storage facilities. It was somewhat a relief to hear about similar challenges faced by the team at NMNI working on a similarly large-scale project!

The conference was a crucial opportunity for me to hear the latest developments in different conservation specialisms, as well as gaining a sense of future directions the conservation profession in the UK is taking. Since Icon does not publish conference postprints, I was extremely keen to take advantage of hearing first-hand the wealth of information from colleagues in the field on current thinking and practices. The plenary sessions highlighted issues surrounding environmental awareness and sustainability, ongoing economic and practical challenges in the heritage sector (particularly faced by emerging professionals), and challenging conventional thinking on topics such as diversity within the profession, and care of and access to collections. I was especially affected by the latter presentation, as the speaker argued we should think more in terms of lifetimes of experiences as well as the conventional ‘object lifetimes’ when conservators weigh up the risks and benefits of permitting or increasing access to collections. Conservators tend to focus on the (often small) risks to objects and overlook the overwhelming benefit that could be had by the many. The main message I took away was that cultural heritage is here to enjoy and appreciate today as well as tomorrow, and conservators should take more responsibility for facilitating this aim. I am now thinking of ways I could apply this in my current role.

I thoroughly enjoyed the chance to re-connect with former colleagues as well as meeting many new people from wide-ranging professional backgrounds. This was a major boost to expanding my professional network and of great importance to me at this point in my career, since I am considering a change of conservation specialism.

Following the Icon conference, I felt spurred on by the thought-provoking presentations and conversations I had experienced. At work I informally briefed colleagues in my team and disseminated information about what I had learnt at the conference together with a PDF of my poster to the wider NMRN staff. I am also due to deliver a more in-depth talk summarising the talks I attended at the conference as part of the NMRN’s ‘Lunch & Learn’ sessions, which are streamed live across all the museum’s sites and open to all museum staff and volunteers to attend. I hope that in this way I can demonstrate the myriad ways conservation professionals engage with cultural heritage and the benefits brought to us all.

Thank you very much for your support.

Following the Icon conference, I felt spurred on by the thought-provoking presentations and conversations I had experienced.