Written by Dr Victoria Purewal ACR), Business founder and Director, Connect-Conserve/Cyswllt-Cadwraeth Cymru.
I own a natural science conservation company called ‘Pure Conservation’, however after Covid, I felt differently about working on my own and for myself. Covid has impacted so many people, it has made us revaluate our lifestyle and our relationships, and affected every aspect of our home and working lives. At the end of the last lockdown, I decided to change and improve my working life, to move in a different direction, and be more sustainable and inclusive.
I started seeking out fellow local conservators in Wales, meeting for coffee, and visiting each other’s workspaces. Being able to talk about our lives and businesses was invigorating, and a great relationship developed. However, I realised that when Covid fully retreated and normal working practice resumed, we could be in competition with each other. Every one of us had struggled in some way during lockdown and it would be better to work together, then we could be more supportive and stronger as a team.
These conversations also highlighted that collections had suffered during lockdown. Limited access to collections for staff meant that spaces and specimens had begun to moulder. For most institutions, finding the financial support or workforce to help remedy this is possible, but for many collection owning community groups, it just isn’t an option, and so that is what inspired me to set up this initiative.
It took months for anyone to take me seriously, get registered, and find the right people to be directors, and almost as long to get a bank account. However, in October, through the help of the Wales Cooperative, Connect-Conserve/Cyswllt-Cadwraeth Cyrmu was born!
It is a Community Interest Company made up of a cooperative of conservators working together but not for profit. By working together, we cut down on resources, such as materials, tools, car sharing, we share our broad and varied skills and knowledge, and we can discuss approaches to work and problem solve as a group. As we know that lockdown has intensified the challenges of living and working alone, this initiative reduces lone working, bringing not only the physical, health and safety benefits, but the mental health ones too.
Being a social business is not just about looking out for others, it is also about providing our conservation services for free, where it is really needed. There are community groups in Wales that tell the story of their communities through their collections. They are supported financially for providing a service to their communities, but not for conserving their significant collections, so Connect can offer this necessary support, we are currently working with a community group in Blaenau Ffestiniog.
In a change to my previous working practice, I have offered my time for free to a fellow conservator, who then reciprocated the same amount of time for a Connect project. Although not sustainable in the long term, we both learnt something new, it got us away from doing the same work and it was generally a very positive experience.
So far, we have employed 8 conservators and undertaken 3 projects. We are working with students and non-accredited conservators too, who are offered the opportunity to work alongside accredited conservators undertaking varied and interesting roles to broaden their experience and add to their portfolios. We actively support emerging professionals and those on the accreditation pathway and have already offered training and student placements.
Although we are not purely natural science based, we do still undertake natural science conservation and an unexpected opportunity arose when I was contacted to work with an archaeological company, DigVentures Ltd. Myself and one of our directors, Kate Andrew travelled to Barnard Castle to assess and apply remedial conservation to a 260,000-year-old mammoth tusk. Kate is a well-established and much revered accredited geological conservator, who spent many years on the NatSCA committee too.
Whilst we were there working, we were filmed, and this footage is going to be televised on the 30th December on the BBC1 at 8pm. Unbeknown to us at the time, we would be included in the same programme that NatSCA’s very own patron Ben Garrod will be the presenter, and the programme will be narrated by Sir David Attenborough himself!
It has taken a lot of time, long hours, and dedication to get this initiative setup. I haven’t been paid a penny in 5 months and yet I am classed as working full time, but the feedback has been quite remarkable and much needed. There was a time when I thought I could easily back out, but the flood of support and interest from other conservators wanting to be involved has kept me going.
If you are an accredited conservator working in Wales, or an emerging professional, you can become a member of Connect, you just need to express an interest. If you are looking for work, or are just happy to contribute to a project, you can contact me, and I will keep you in mind until we have a suitable project.
Our social media pages are up but the website is still pending but please follow us, spread the word, make contact so that we can support more individuals and more community groups through teaching and helping but mainly through connecting conservation.
Twitter: https://twitter.com/CConserveCymru (@CConserveCymru)
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/connect.conserve.cymru (@connect.conserve.cymru)
Did you do the Digventures for free? Or do some projects bring in money so practitioners always get paid? Doesn’t doing work for free undercut other professionals (competitors) who need to charge to make ends meet, damaging the wider community? I understand the benefits of such an initiative, but in a significantly underpaid profession I’m not sure providing free services is the right precedent to set (and can actually be a barrier in inclusivity).
Reply from Connect-Conserve/Cyswllt-Cadwraeth Cymru: We offer a standard professional conservation service to commercial ventures, we charge a set fee, and all conservators that are part of Connect are paid the same fair rate This was agreed by talking it through with the members and other conservation service providers. With any profit the company makes, this is fed back into the community to help those receive conservation services that they couldn’t ordinarily pay for. The aim is to bring out-of-work conservators together for projects they have the skills for, but may not ordinarily get the opportunity to work on.