What goes on behind the scenes at Standen House, an Arts & Crafts family home

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A morning in the life of a National Trust trainee

This week saw the first ever Museums Week on Twitter; where hundreds of museums and museum professionals came together to talk about different aspects of museum life. One of the themes was a typical day in the life of a museum, and inspired by this – and by the fact that people often ask me what my role as a trainee entails – I thought I’d write a blog post or two about a day in the life of a National Trust trainee. In this post, I’ve written about what I got up to one morning this week… 

My day started at 8.30am, when I arrived at Standen and began the daily cleaning, along with the Assistant House Steward and Conservation Assistants. Some days this is a longer task than others – there’s usually more cleaning to do after a busy weekend, for instance.

The glamorous daily cleaning kit!

The glamorous daily cleaning kit!

As well as dusting and vacuuming, this is our chance to check everything is in order: perhaps refreshing interpretation, or changing bulbs and batteries, and other small tasks. We also check the presentation of a room and that everything is in place. Busy days mean the rooms can get crowded and furniture may get jostled or accidentally moved, so the following day we can check this as we clean.

We also keep an eye out for objects that might need a closer inspection, or even the attentions of a conservator. Just recently, on our daily rounds, we noticed that an antimacassar in the Drawing Room needed to be looked at more closely, as it was in a very poor condition – it was consequently put into storage to protect from further damage.

We often work in pairs when cleaning the house and carrying out other tasks. On this particular day, after cleaning, I carried out humidity and temperature checks while Alison, one of Standen’s Conservation Assistants, checked and wound the clocks. We monitor the humidity levels in the house very carefully, as fluctuations in humidity levels can cause lasting damage. Organic materials in particular are affected by continual changes in humidity; gaining or losing moisture as the humidity changes, sometimes resulting in irreversible damage (see picture below).

An example of damage caused by falling humidity levels

An example of damage caused by falling humidity levels

At 9.45am, its time for the daily briefing, when staff on the property get together to be briefed on the day’s activities. It’s here that we find out whether there is a large coach party or school group visiting, or who the first aider for that day is…and what’s on the menu in the café!

After the daily briefing, it’s back to prepping the house for opening until 10am, when we take a much needed tea break – dusting is thirsty work! And of course it’s always nice to have a chat with colleagues over tea and biscuits. Once tea break is over we usually rush around opening blinds and shutters, ready for when visitors start arriving.

Later on this particular morning, I attended the Conservation and Curatorial meeting, where the regional conservator and curator met the house staff to discuss all sorts of issues: from museum accreditation and conservation updates, to interpretation and future exhibitions. As a trainee, it’s really interesting for me to be a part of these meetings, as it gives me a real insight into the wide range of subjects that are a part of working in historic houses.

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A new start…

…in more ways than one!

This blog is a new venture for the House Team at Standen; a way for us to stay connected with our supporters and let them know what we’re up to.

The blog also marks a new start for me, Hannah, as the property’s new trainee Conservation and Interpretation Assistant.

Working in the cellar store

Hannah at work in our cellar store, inspecting and cleaning items from our collection

My first few days at Standen were a flurry of introductions, tours and talks, as I met staff and volunteers, and was introduced to Standen and its history.

As far as country houses go, Standen is modest, but it has a small army of staff and volunteers that keep everything going, and remembering names and faces seemed an impossible task (this is why we all wear name badges!).

However, I soon found myself able to put names to faces and find my way around without too many problems – everyone was very friendly and welcoming, and that certainly helped!

I learnt all sorts of things in my first couple of weeks at Standen (there’ll be more of that later!), but one of my first lessons was the importance of having a break and putting your feet up – no, really!

Tea and cake

There’s always time for tea!

A lot of work in NT houses is very physical, and there are often days when you don’t get the chance to sit down for much longer than 20 minutes, so a tea break is one of the most important times of the day – it cannot be overstated just how vital a steady supply of tea and cake is to the smooth running of an historic house!