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Conserving our collections

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Although the banners in our collection may have once been seen as ‘working’ objects, many are now very fragile and can be quite challenging to care for.

Our annual "Banner Hang"

Textiles are vulnerable objects as they can be damaged by light, dust, extremes in environmental conditions and even hanging when on display. For this reason many of the banners in the galleries are changed annually, this is part of our preventative conservation strategy for the collection. Each banner is carefully lowered and checked for damage before being packed away. Banners selected for display must be thoroughly checked and conserved before they are ready to install.

Not only does this give us the opportunity to exhibit more of our collection around the chosen theme for the year, but we also conserve at least one banner every year that has never been on display to the public before.

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Not just banners

Our collection is also made up of a wide variety of objects from our political history such as posters; placards; ceramics; and even furniture. These are often everyday items that were used in now-extraordinary moments in history, and include objects such as Michael Foot’s broken cane, fixed with parcel tape; a plastic miners’ strike collection tub with adhesive stickers; the Polyurethane Spitting Image puppet of Harold Wilson; election balloons from 1995; and a placard from the Women’s Marches in 2017, decorated with felt-tip pen.

These objects are made from a wide variety of different materials, each requiring a specific type of conservation care for both storage and display.

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Exhibitions

We also have a core involvement in the programme for each years events, significantly, the annual temporary exhibition. These exhibitions are always different, and we work closely with the Programming team to select objects from the collection that illustrate each chosen theme.

We provide advice on the design to ensure the safety of the objects whilst on display; this can also involve making the mounts for objects and the framing for paper and prints. The practical conservation that we undertake for exhibitions is minimally interventive. This means that it is enough to prevent damage occurring while on display, but is not intended to make the object look like new. This is part of our ethical framework as conservators.

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Students and volunteers

We often have requests from students and volunteers to do work placements with us. These people can be students of conservation already, or those who are interested in a career in heritage and museums. We try to accommodate these where possible and aim to have at least one summer placement each year. Projects are selected and designed for the individuals experience and interests, but they often will encompass both practical conservation and tasks associated with the day to day care of the collection

Teaching in this way is central to how we plan for the care of the collection. This gives us the chance to conduct conservation treatments and projects that may not otherwise happen, as part of teaching and learning experiences.

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