Welcoming Our Volunteers

At the Soane, we are supported by a group of hard-working and dedicated volunteers, whose work is vital to the day-to-day running of the Museum. Here, Assistant Conservator Lucy Sims discusses how volunteers Mark and Issac assist her department.


Each Monday for the past three months, we have been working with two wonderful conservation volunteers. After nearly one hundred people applied to volunteer, we chose Mark and Isaac, pictured below, to join the team.  Choosing who to give the roles to took a great deal of time and thought as all the applicants were extremely keen and many had a lot of conservation experience. In the end we chose Mark and Isaac because they are at the beginning of their careers, both studying for heritage related degrees, and we felt they would get a great deal out of the experience. The time they give is very beneficial to the Museum, especially at the moment during the busy programme of conservation for Opening up the Soane.


Here is just a taster of the kinds of things they have been helping with so far;


One of the cornerstones of preventive conservation is good housekeeping and more specifically, dusting. Dust is one of the conservation team’s greatest enemies. It is all around us in the atmosphere and settles on every surface. With major building work in the museum at the moment we have to be even more vigilant. If left for long periods, dust bonds to the surface of objects and becomes considerably harder to remove. Added to this it attracts and provides food for insect pests which can cause considerable damage to the collection if allowed to multiply. With so many objects packed into Soane’s fascinating interiors, we spend a lot of time dusting! All the help from Mark and Isaac is vital in keeping on top of this never ending process.


Mark and Isaac carefully dusting some plaster busts in the John A. and Cynthia Fry Gunn Conservation Centre at the Museum. Mark and Isaac dusting plaster busts in the John A. and Cynthia Fry Gunn Conservation Centre

Protecting the collection

We often hold events at the Museum at which food and drink are served. In preparation for these we have to ensure that all delicate flat surfaces in the museum’s interiors are protected. We do this by cutting thin acrylic sheeting, called Melinex, to fit the surfaces, acting as temporary protective covers, on which even a damp glass can be put down without causing damage. This all takes considerable time and requires great attention to detail. Mark and Isaac help to measure the spaces and cut the Melinex to fit them. This is a vital, if lengthy process.

Collating data

Each week the volunteers collate the environmental data, collected in the central computer from sensors placed in the museum’s interiors. They note when the temperature or relative humidity (RH, the amount of moisture in the air) has become too high or low. The level of humidity is directly influenced by the temperature and there are ideal levels for both. It is very important to control the levels of RH because too much moisture can lead to damp and the risk of mould growth, while too

little moisture can lead to cracking and splitting of timber, paint surfaces and other materials. We look at the graphs together and look for evidence of fluctuations in these levels. If we find any worrying changes we discuss why this might be happening and propose ways in which we can control the environment more effectively.

We really appreciate all the help our volunteers give us and look forward to continuing to work with them in the coming months.


If you would like to find out more about volunteering at the Soane, please see our Volunteering page on our website. To learn more about how we look after the house and collection, you can download our ‘Conservation Housekeeping Trail’ and view the Museum through a conservator’s eyes.

Posted on 29 January 2014 in Conservation Matters
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