I think everyone reading this will be glad to see an end to the last twelve months: what a year.
The rollercoaster that was 2020 has carried me along like everyone else, and has brought both good and bad times. Dealing with a close family bereavement in lockdown was by far the hardest, and the feeling of helplessness when you can not be with people you care for can not be underestimated.
But as you can see from the selection of images above, work has continued to develop and I have been truly lucky to have the range of projects I have enjoyed this year: everything from the conservation and mounting of a letter to Santa from the 1930s to fasciculing C13th medieval French manuscript fragments. I have been fortunate to be able to conduct several major collection assessments, with appropriate Covid-secure measures, three exhibition installations including for the remarkable (and alas, under-attended due to Covid) British Baroque exhibition at Tate and numerous studio based projects for both institutional and private clients. Several long term projects ended, with new work taking its place: for this I am thankful.
I have been amazed by the response of the heritage sector in their ability to adapt their practice and share their knowledge, much of which I distilled into the open-access Resources Roundup spreadsheet, now in its 20th incarnation. The degree to which the sector, both home and abroad, has pulled together to pool information and resources is incredible, and it is this attitude and spirit by which we will haul ourselves out of this. Working with the ARA committees on which I sit has also kept me connected, gaining from and giving support to colleagues through all the different experiences they have had in lockdown.
Presentations have been a feature of 2020, with in-person speaking opportunities being transferred online. So although my planned trip to speak at the AIC’s conference in Salt Lake City in May was abandoned – I can’t deny this was a bitter blow – I did take part in the online symposium which was more than a consolation. Speaking and discussing what I do is one of the best bits of the job, and I welcome every opportunity I am offered. Connecting with colleagues outside of my normal sphere has been one of the most positive aspects of 2020 and I have shared virtual spaces with people from all over the world and in a kaleidoscope of heritage disciplines.
Lockdown has given me a chance to think anew about where I can contribute, leading to the formation of a project to bring engagement opportunities to those groups who may not have easy access to written heritage materials or who learn by means other than purely sight and reading. This has taken the form of a CIC, Take 5 Engagement Ltd., with the aim of facilitating tactile engagement workshops for a wide range of people and involving sight, sound, touch, smell and hopefully even taste to show how and why objects were made. 2021 will see this new bolt-on venture develop, with a bit of luck and hard work, and I already have a couple of pilot workshops lined up with partners such as The Avenue School in Reading.
The several work trips and holidays I had planned – including a short break for my husband’s 50th birthday (he will be 52 by the time we go – if we go – this coming year!) – have had to be shelved. Even though the temperature was at least 10 degrees less than our planned Spanish break, the sea and sky in Cornwall this summer were a very Tyrrhenian blue, and the caravan’s hot tub made up for the lack of warmth in the air.
On a personal note, I was delighted to be chosen as a volunteer HLF-funded Women into Heritage Engineering apprentice at Crofton Beam Engines. Having had a lifelong interest in industrial archaeology (I come from Co. Durham after all, so it is kind of in my blood) this was genuinely a dream come true. This vastly important industrial heritage site on the Kennet and Avon Canal has always fascinated me, and to be contributing to its continued use as a place to inspire and enjoy is just fantastic. In January I am learning how to weld: I can not wait. I have also been heavily involved in cataloguing the history of my home town, Consett, and specifically the steelworks that made the town and its people – as well as the steel for a whole host of ships, buildings and even Blackpool Tower. For a bit of end of year fun, check out the advent calendar I compiled: who knew steel production would make such a good topic for this sort of countdown?
At the end of this bruising year, I wish all my clients both past and present all the very best for a happier and healthy 2021. Larkin missed something out: what survives of us is not just love, but also hope.