MA Collections Care and Conservation Management 2017 - 2019

Wendy Richardson

National Project Conservator, English Heritage

What led you to study Collections Care and Conservation Management?

I was looking for a new challenge and a way of progressing in my career and when I first found out about the CCCM course at West Dean and it seemed ideal for my situation. I was very nervous about applying as I had not completed any formal study for eleven years. I also needed to apply for funding which was a new and intimidating experience for me. I had great support from my employer and I soon found out that everyone at West Dean was incredibly friendly and helpful and this made the whole experience much easier for me.

I remember arriving at West Dean on the first day feeling excited to have got that far, it felt like the start of a new chapter in my life. The course was fascinating and full from the first day, with the very highest quality of visiting lecturers. Within the first week we had studied pest management and learned about managing light in a historic house environment. We also had sessions on study skills and how to complete our assignments on top of a full induction to the range of facilities available to help us. I left after my first week feeling challenged and with the confidence to get started on my first assignment.

When I began the CCCM I had been working for English Heritage for ten years as a Collections Care Assistant. My first degree had been in History and Heritage studies and I was looking for a formal conservation qualification. My employers were great and I was able to make time within my working week to complete the Work Based Learning element of the course.

Please tell us about a particular highlight of the course/your time at the College.

I find it very difficult to pick out a specific moment that stands out to me from my time studying on the CCCM course at West Dean, there were so many things that made this course outstanding. I think for me the moments that stand out fit into three categories, those of personal achievement, those of incredible teaching and those of the magic of West Dean. For example, I still remember receiving the feedback from my first assignment and realising that this was something I could do; it gave me such confidence and increased my drive to do my absolute best, I think that is the mark of a truly excellent tutor. We had some amazing lecturers on the CCCM course and studied a wide range of subjects, from project management to relative humidity to ceramics & furniture. I particularly remember learning about risk assessments in collections management and feeling like my eyes had been opened to a completely different way of approaching collections care; this session in particular has completely changed the way that I view the significance of my work. 

The quality of both internal and external lecturers on the CCCM course was incredible. Being taught by acknowledged experts from private practice as well as from national bodies such as English Heritage, the National Trust and the V&A was an absolute privilege. All of our lecturers were fantastic and so helpful in providing advice and help in creating professional networks. In particular, the course tutors have provided us with a huge resource of knowledge and experience far beyond what I would have expected. They have provided advice and encouragement even after we finished the course, on a personal note I would never have presented my first poster at a conference without this on-going professional support. My fellow CCCM students and I created our own network through our study at West Dean and this network has been maintained after graduation. We all work in different areas of the heritage sector and we still provide support and advice to each other. I can’t imagine we would have been able to form such a wide-ranging and long lasting network on any other course.

One of the things that I found most important in the CCCM course was the emphasis on professional skills. This included excellent skills sessions on how to formulate a research question, how to make a great presentation and how to evaluate your own work. These skills were exercised throughout the course so that upon leaving I felt confident that I could continue to use them throughout my career. Upon finishing the CCCM course, I would say the most important elements of the course were those I had not even considered when I began it. These were the ability to understand and apply critical thinking and to use my problem solving skills in any area of my life. Most of all, the course taught us how to find and evaluate information on almost any subject, this has given me huge confidence in my professional life.

The Work Based Learning element of the CCCM course added another whole dimension. We could learn about a subject or skill whilst at West Dean and then immediately return to a real world situation to apply it. This encouraged us to converse with colleagues and professionals from our institutions and allowed us to contextualise our learning and understand how practices might need to be adapted in different situations and how they might need to change to fit into a business model. As the work based learning situations of my fellow students were all different this facilitated some very interesting debates and learning opportunities.

How do you think the MA Collections Care and Conservation Management prepared you for what you do now?

After graduating from the CCCM course I have continued to be employed by English Heritage and have been given some fantastic opportunities for advancement. I am currently on secondment to a National Project Conservator post which has allowed me to apply many of the skills and knowledge that I gained from the CCCM as well as exercising my problem solving and critical thinking skills. I would not have been able to take on this role, nor would have had the confidence in myself to do so, if I had not completed this course. I have since found myself able to write conservation documentation, present at a conference and provide advice to a wide range of internal and external colleagues. I feel so lucky to have studied on the CCCM course at West Dean, it has renewed my ambition and self-confidence and provided me with professional opportunities that I would never have had otherwise, and for this I would like to thank the staff at West Dean as well as those organisations that provided me with the funding to attend this course.

What's your favourite memory from your time at the College?

West Dean is such a fantastic place to live and learn, staying on site meant that the facilities were available to us at all times, after a particularly busy and stressful day my favourite thing to do was to walk up to the arboretum in the evening and wander through the trees, enjoying the peace and inspiration of the gardens, just thinking about this relaxes me, even now.