We have suspended sessions, and plan to re-start in October, if we can; thanks to our partners and our funder City Bridge Trust, we feel confident that we will be able to complete the project.
Our Steering Group on Friday 13th March at SMART was timely, so we had plans in place ready for the wider shutdown on Monday 16th March.
So far we’ve held 5 sessions, so we are half way through the core programme – though we have post-project sessions for people to maintain contact with each other and London Metropolitan Archives. If we have to pause, this isn’t a bad time to do it.
Meanwhile we are getting on with looking at wellbeing research information. Daisy Rubinstein and Dr Linda Thomson are reviewing the data from questionnaires, feedback from staff at reflective practice sessions, and from a focus group with participants.
We are keeping communications going with regular tweets, and we are looking at ways to keep in touch with people online. More to come…..
This week’s session began early for Caroline De Stefani and myself as we spoke to our researcher Daisy Rubinstein about our experience of the project. During this discussion a key reflection for me was how the physical characteristics of the collection items – the smell of old leather, texture of parchment and sounds of different papers – seem to be especially engaging for participants.
Everyone arrived in two taxis from SMART and we began lunch by washing hands following guidance from our Corvid 19 Virus risk assessment.
Once the workshop started our first task was to fold and wrap the boxes we had measured last week around the books. We were joined by LMAs Learning and Engagement Manager Aimee Taylor, and, as we grappled with getting the labels stuck down in the correct place and right way up, she remarked, “Conservation is so detailed…….”
We then discussed the materials that glass plate negatives and silver gelatin photographs are made from.
I mentioned that the era of the physical photograph is over, and we talked about how completely different digital data and prints are. We looked at some of the different supports used in photography (glass, paper, plastic), and at the image and emulsion layer – commonly silver particles that form an image in a gelatin layer.
“Gelatin, is that bones,” asked Julia (not her real name).
“Yes,” I answered, “that’s what the rag and bone man used to collect.”
“Photographs are made from bones? Human bones?”
After establishing that the bones were animal, probably horse, the conversation moved on, to grave robbing and autopsy, before we returned to historic photographs. The handout we provided also included a list of – dos and don’ts – such as wearing vinyl gloves, keeping prints and negatives on the table, etc.
Looking at the prints and deciding which size polyester sleeve to use
Following tea, Tom and Nana, who is a volunteer working with SMART, re-joined us after they also had been interviewed by Daisy. We spent the rest of the session re-housing black & white photographs of hospitals and asylums into polyester sleeves. The photographs varied in size and the correct polyester sleeve had to be chosen. This activity was quite hectic as everyone took part with enthusiasm and we re-housed four boxes in record speed!
Looking at photographs of a hospital sitting room for the live-in nurses
Next Friday the Project Steering Group is meeting on the same day as the SMART art group, and will take place at SMART. The Steering Group is made up of the partners, staff, researchers and participants, and it is the main vehicle for managing the project . There will also be a focus group meeting for participants with Daisy.
This week participants traveled from SMART to London Metropolitan Archives and back by taxi. This was easier than travelling by bus and everyone arrived in good spirits to have lunch with time to spare. Tom had made a huge number of sandwiches and after further biscuits and tea we moved into the Conservation Studio to start the workshop. As people headed towards the table around which we sit for the sessions it was clear that the studio is becoming a familiar space.
This session was called ‘Let Talk about Dirt’ and we did just that by discussing why dirt and dust is a problem and how it gets onto the registers.
Making trays out of archival paper
The most common way for dirt to get onto books and documents is by handling. When the asylum registers were consulted in the past by clinical and other staff, they will sometimes have turned the pages with greasy fingers, or left a book open so that dust fell onto it. Because of this we can look at a book now and see which pages were consulted most frequently – they are the ones with the most dirt or fingerprints on the corners of the page as it is turned.
Cutting and folding the paper for the trays
When stored on a book shelf, dust enters the volume from above, with dust falling deep within the book if the pages are loose. That is another reason why it’s good to put heritage volumes in a protective box.
And, in order to keep our work space clean, we made paper trays so that the dust and other particles that get moved by cleaning were contained and not spread over the table or floor.
Cleaning volumes using foam book wedges to support the bindings
People worked either in pairs or individually and, after a break and cup of tea, we started cleaning the registers using soft brushes and latex sponges. The covers, which are leather or parchment, were not cleaned, we just concentrated on the pages.
The books vary quite a lot, some are large while others are fairly small and slim but they all needed the support of a foam book wedge to ensure that the bindings were not squashed flat on the table. These wedges are particularly important during cleaning as pressure is put on the pages, but they would also be needed if the registers are consulted in the search room.
Some volumes needed quite a lot of cleaning
Once finished, each register was measured for a box. The boxes will be cut by Amy in the Boxing Room and by the next session they will be ready for folding and wrapping around their newly clean books.
From today we are cancelling gatherings planned for the next eight weeks in the following projects:
Culture Quest Suffolk, Burgh Castle Almanac, Like Minds Norfolk and Conservation for Wellbeing.
We will be keeping in regular contact with participants, staff, volunteers, partners and funders by all the usual means. We will be setting up virtual gatherings with participants on dates when we would have been meeting together.
We are also getting on with planning projects, publishing Almanacs, developing research and spreading the word about the benefits of culture therapy for people living with mental health challenges.
As the Corona Virus situation changes we will update our plans.
We hope to revive our friendly gatherings in fabulous places with excellent experts and artists in the not too distant future.
If you have any questions, or news you would like us to share, please get in touch with me, Laura Drysdale, by email, phone or social media.
This blog is by C4W coordinator and paper conservator Helen Lindsay
Session 3, London Metropolitan Archives, 7th February 2020. Protection and looking
The session start time has been moved to 12,30, so the first thing we did was have lunch in the Huntley Room. Then we visited the boxing machine, located in its room high up in the building and full of light. We met Amy, who operated the machine, and watched it robotically crease and cut out the flat box shape. ‘Why is it called a Wrap Lock box? – because it wraps round the book and then locks shut with its tab.
It was fantastic to see people become increasing interested in different box shapes, and to share the pleasure of receiving a small archive box as a present. A box you have seen being made is fundamentally different from one purchased from a newsagent.
Travelling through LMAs back regions, we found ourselves in the Conservation Studio. There was an air of anticipation as people wrapped the boxes they had measured last week round the St Luke’s Hospital volumes. Then satisfaction all round as the books fitted snuggly into their new homes. We discussed how the boxes protected the books from handling, dust and even flood water.
We were having a tea break in the Huntley Room, when the fire alarm sounded. It was not a drill, so we congregated outside for 25 minutes while the Fire Brigade checked the building.
Back in the Conservation Studio, we moved on to the agents of deterioration, re-written in less technical language than used by professional conservators. At first the group looked a bit bored, maybe tired, maybe thinking they were going to get a lecture.
However, once we started chatting about bugs, pests, handling and fire the discussion livened up. People sat up in their chairs and started talking and looking. One person said, “do you really spend a whole day at a conference talking about pests, a whole day?” Somewhere between aghast and fascinated.
It’s easy for those of us who work in archives and museums to forget how unfamiliar it is to be behind the scenes for most people.
As a conservator and collections care manager this project is taking me out of my comfort zone, but I am enjoying it. The sessions tend not go to exactly to plan and we have to be flexible – rather like jazz; structured improvisation. And I hope that as the weeks go by the experiences and nascent research emerging from the project will be the beginning of many more C4W workshops.
Jane Willis has produced a preliminary report evaluating the impact of Burgh Castle Almanac on participants’ wellbeing. Here are some excerpts from the document, which will be incorporated in a final report to be published in Autumn 2020.
In describing their experience of BCA, participants talked of feeling low at the start of the project. Several of them talked about the challenge and reward of trying something new, learning new things. History and landscape were key themes, with several people talking about the therapeutic impact of being in nature, being outdoors, walking, witnessing the changing seasons. Walking in nature seemed to provide both sanctuary and a safe place to talk and connect with others. Participants talked of both looking close-up, of being in the moment, being present; and of looking out, getting a fresh perspective on life. And across all of these themes was that of friendship: of new friendships formed that made them feel safe, cared for, supported and empowered.The key themes that arose from the narratives were:
Feeling Low “Before I started the project, I actually felt a bit like an injured lion and a bit like you know, really burdened by life” P1“When you are feeling really low you can feel that the world has become smaller and being part of this project is maybe that the world has become bigger.” P1
Worry about the world“What’s going on out there and I should be really worried about this because there is a lot of bad shit going on.” P3
Trying new things“Maybe this is helping me do things for the very first time again” P5
Learning“Discover more. The more you know the better things are for you, aren’t they? Learn.” P2
History“……. found a Roman Coin and I think that was one of the best things.” P4
Landscape“The important thing for me is that it runs all year, so you get to see the seasons change, going from summer into autumn into winter and that gives me a sense of the landscape and appreciating the nature.” P3“I think people talk more when they walk. I can talk better when I am walking along, I don’t know why.” P4
Sanctuary“I have always found calm by water and there’s a spot on the site that I take a little 5 or 10 second clip of, and if I am struggling, I play it to myself just to hear the sounds and stuff.” P5
Look / take notice“But up close here, really looking at life and really being in the moment, that is something I have gained a lot from this.” P3
Perspective“If you took us all up individually to the site, we would all show you something individually, from a different viewpoint. And I like that. We’d all have a different view of the site. And the view from here. When you get up there, the view is just great wherever you look. That is also why ESCAPE.” P6
Friendship“I have made new friends which I never thought I would.” P2
Safety“Joining a club when you can speak to anybody when we are walking round. It is not cliquey or anything like that, its lovely.” P7
Expression and sharing “I have really enjoyed it because I am quite an introverted person really, and it’s just nice to be able to chat to people. It’s just very therapeutic. And you can just go up and talk, and you talk about things you don’t normally talk about.” P7
The impacts were then grouped according to theme. The themes arising in order of prominence (in terms of number of stars or number of mentions) were:Friendship / community (6 stars and 7 mentions)
Sense of part of a community **
Interaction – people *
Pulled me out of my shell more outgoing *
When one struggles someone’s there alongside
Sense of being a part of something
Wellbeing / change (6 stars / 3 mentions)
Changed life ***
You feel much better for coming ***
I get withdrawal symptoms if I haven’t been for a while
Confidence (1 star / 4 mentions)
Sense of satisfaction and achievement *
More willing to try new things
Sense of achievement
Change in perspective (1 star / 3 mentions)
Special things that open up your mind*
Opens your horizons
Valuing individual perspectives
Access (3 mentions)
Access to Museums, Culture
I have discovered I enjoy learning (e.g. watching programmes on BBC4 which I would not have done before)
Although not initially an aim of the focus group, participants commented on why they thought the project had been successful. They noted that the project felt safe, well managed and well-held, and a place where they did not feel judged. The fact that it was a two-year project also enabled them to feel safe, knowing that it was going to carry on. They appreciated the new experiences it gave them, but also felt that it enabled them to connect with a sense of history, culture and place leading to a greater sense of connection and belonging.Duration (6 stars / 2 mentions)
2-year project – means long enough to forge friendships ******
Knowing it’s not going to shut down after a couple of months
New Experiences (5 stars / 4 mentions)
New experiences ***
Access to museums/galleries for free (low incomes) **
Access not just entrance fee – transport/food
Situated in place, history and culture (2 stars / 3 mentions)
Mental Health Project begins at London Metropolitan Archives
Conservation for Wellbeing (C4W) is a pilot project that combines conservation, archives and mental health. As well as practising conservation, participants will gain behind-the-scenes knowledge of how heritage collections are protected and cared for at London Metropolitan Archives.
This is a completely new way of engaging people who live with mental health problems with heritage and creativity. It includes an exhibition and research into the wellbeing outcomes for participants.
C4W uses original archives from St Luke’s Hospital in Islington, founded in 1751 to look after mental ill people. The hospital closed in 2011 and the archives were deposited at London Metropolitan Archives by Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust.
The project is funded by a grant of £26,400 from the City Bridge Trust.
C4W is run by The Restoration Trust, in partnership with London Metropolitan Archives (LMA), St Mary Abbots Rehabilitation and Training (SMART) and the Institute of Conservation (Icon) with research support from University College London (UCL).
Meeting fortnightly from January to May, a group of 8 people from Kensington and Chelsea who are in contact with St Mary Abbots Rehabilitation and Training (SMART) will learn paper conservation skills from professional conservators. They will exhibit their work at LMA, SMART and other local venues. Outcomes research will be published online and in professional journals.
The Restoration Trust manages the project. The Restoration Trust’s innovative culture therapy projects help people with serious mental health problems enjoy heritage, art and culture in a safe, effective and interesting way.
City Bridge Trust funds the project. City Bridge Trust is the funding arm of Bridge House Estates. It was established to make use of funds surplus to bridge requirements and provides grants totalling around £20m per year towards charitable activity benefitting Greater London.
London Metropolitan Archives (LMA) hosts C4W, and participants will learn skills from staff in the Conservation Studio. LMA is committed to making its collections available to as many people as possible. LMA is free to use and open to everyone.
St Mary Abbots Rehabilitation and Training (SMART) supports C4W participants. SMART works closely with the providers of statutory services, such as local community mental health teams and day services in Kensington and Chelsea to develop a more holistic approach to support people with mental health needs.
The Institute of Conservation (Icon) assures C4W quality through its accreditation scheme and oversight. Icon is a membership organisation and charity which brings together those with a passion for the care of cultural heritage. It is the professional body for conservation of cultural heritage.
University College London (UCL) researcher Dr Linda Thomson provides research guidance drawing on her expertise in measuring the wellbeing outcomes of heritage engagement. Art therapist Daisy Rubinstein will carry out the research.
People came from SMART’s base in Chelsea by the Number 19 bus to LMA at Farringdon. The session began at 11.30, when we met at the Huntley Room, then Caroline de Stefani, Head of the Conservation Studio, took us on a tour of strong rooms with new and old roller racking. Climate is controlled by the building’s thermal mass to be at a regular temperature of 17 degrees, with relative humidity of 45 – 50%. We also went into a film store, where the temperature was lower to reduce relative humidity, trying to slow deterioration of the film stock. We broke for lunch, then went into the Conservation Studio, where Caroline showed us the wet area, demonstrated a humidity chamber for working on parchment, and identified some of the equipment, including guillotines, presses, and a book measure. She introduced us to a colleague, Georgia, who talked about a volume she is starting to work on, and also showed an ‘after’, a re-bound and cleaned set of document. We then looked at 19th Century volumes of documents from St Luke’s Hospital – registers and case books, as well as photographs from Banstead Hospital in the1920s and 30s. Next session will involve making boxes…