Every year we take advantage of the post Christmas lull in visitor numbers, and the winter closing hours in museums to undertake a thorough deep clean of Strangers’ Hall. This is a joint operation involving the Strangers’ Hall staff, the conservation department, and a group of willing volunteers. The core cleaning time takes place over the last three weeks in January, with cleaning taking place on most days for those weeks.
The volunteers for the Deep Clean are sourced, contacted and organised by Bethan Holdridge (Curatorial Assistant), but before the volunteers can be set to task they must first attend a day of training, which is delivered jointly by contract conservator, Juliane Ovenden, and David Harvey from the conservation department.
The training covers a general introduction to conservation but with emphasis on the particular issues that Strangers’ Hall and its collections present. The volunteers are made aware of potential problems such as mould and pest damage and are given an understanding of the nature of the collections that they will be cleaning.
The volunteers are also taught how objects should (or shouldn’t!) be handled, moved and packed. They are then given practical guidance with cleaning techniques. Many of the objects in the collections have had a full and useful life before they came to the museum, so they may be quite vulnerable and require particularly careful handling. Finally, everyone has a quick tour of all the display and relevant storage areas of Strangers Hall, led by Bethan, in which some of the particular difficulties associated with each area are highlighted. So, by the first day of the cleaning proper everyone is raring to go.
We begin each day of cleaning with planned tasks and we guide our volunteers accordingly. We have all been organised into a weekly rota by Bethan that prioritises problem areas that have become apparent during her Housekeeping throughout the year, but also takes into consideration a need to work around other events that often take place when a museum is closed. This could be anything from repairs to the building or decorating being carried out by external contractors, to marketing needing to take fresh images for flyers.
A typical rota allocation gives responsibility for a room setting or display area in the museum to one, two or three volunteers , with the team leader of the day overseeing procedures. Each room has a set of room notes and images that have been built up by Bethan from previous Deep Cleans, as well as during Housekeeping throughout the year, so that re-displaying the room (once cleaned) and understanding its nuances can be done with reference to them.
The basic way to tackle a room is first to move the furniture as required. The room is then cleaned and vacuumed from top to bottom, conservation cleaning of the furniture and other objects carried out, and finally, the objects are then returned and the room reset.
Any smaller objects in the room settings are packed and moved to another room where they can be cleaned at a table set up for the purpose. Textiles, such as curtains and bed-linen, are taken down and wrapped, by another dedicated team, before being placed in the freezer to kill any insect pests. They also need careful vacuuming before being replaced. So, that’s the first room done. Only another thirty left to do!
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With the deep clean complete Strangers Hall is due to re-open, be sure to visit!