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Caring for the Collection: Emma Callaghan's Journey from Ship Keeper to Conservation Technician

Caring for the Collection

At The National Museum of the Royal Navy, we are always looking at ways to up-skill our teams, find new conservation methods and the best techniques for the care of our collection.

Part of this is about having the right people, with the right skills and knowledge to look after the ships, aircraft, and other items we care for.

One of these people is Emma Callaghan, a Conservation Technician at the National Museum of the Royal Navy Hartlepool, who works with the collection and HMS Trincomalee. Recently Emma has undertaken a diploma, adding to her skill set while working, and she’s written about her experience so we can share it with you.

Emma’s Experience

The Institute of Conservation (Icon) is a professional body which aims to raise the standards of conservation practice in the UK. They provide guidance, accreditation, and professional development advice and qualifications to conservation specialists.

Completing the V&A/Icon Conservation and Collections Care Technicians Diploma (CCCT Diploma) whilst working as a Shipkeeper at the National Museum of the Royal Navy (NMRN) provided me with the opportunity to develop my skills and experience. It also helped to and to further advance the Conservation and Collections team at Hartlepool.

The Role of a Shipkeeper

The NMRN’s team of Shipkeepers are at the forefront of the day-to-day care of our historic ships. They work with conservators to implement a conservation cleaning programme which serves to both improve the presentation of, and to identify and monitor any risks to our historic ships.

As a Shipkeeper for HMS Trincomalee, I was trained in conservation cleaning, preventive conservation, recognising pest activity, and in some interventive treatments.

The principles of preventive conservation learnt as a Shipkeeper provided an excellent starting point from which to delve deeper into an understanding of the care of our cultural heritage, interventive procedures, and conservation ethics – all whilst being able to see these things happen in a real, albeit unusual museum setting.

As an example, monitoring the environment in which a collection is kept is often associated with well-designed and controlled object stores, but the same principles may be applied to a 19th century ship; although it can be a little more difficult to manage!

 The CCCT Diploma

Completing the CCCT Diploma whilst working meant I was surrounded by people with a wealth of knowledge, and a willingness to share their experiences with me.

There was an answer to every one of my questions provided by my assessor, mentor, and other colleagues.
Personal and continuous support can be difficult to find, but is an invaluable resource whilst undertaking any type of learning. Being able to learn while doing and by doing, from those with masses of experience in the industry is fundamental to anybody’s professional development.

Becoming a Conservation Technician

By completing the CCCT Diploma and expanding my capability beyond that of a Shipkeeper, I was able to prove I had gained the technical skills and knowledge to earn a new role as a Conservation Technician in the NMRN’s growing Conservation and Collections team.

This support was essential, particularly as working to conserve historic ships is a unique dynamic which amalgamates professional conservation with typically ‘traditional’ skills – while also incorporating archaeology, engineering, and a wealth of other disciplines. It’s a concept which can be difficult to fully understand without having first-hand experience.

Historic ships are extremely complex and difficult objects to protect, and require constant and diligent inspection, maintenance, and conservation.

Over the last five years, the National Museum of the Royal Navy has been continually expanding its skills, people, and knowledge to ensure that the museum’s collections are cared for in the best way possible.

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