Friday, 4 August 2017
Early mornings remind me why living 10minutes away from work is a complete blessing. One podcast and a brief walk later I arrive at our loading bay where 2 of our techs are making coffee and waiting for a courier to arrive - last night one of our vehicles collected works ahead of an early start this morning and they're getting ready for a long day driving to the Netherlands. By 7:00am the courier has arrived, her suitcase is in the cab, the final works are loaded and with a final coffee/croissant for the road the team are on their way. I head to my desk and open emails - the estimates I requested earlier in the week from US agents have arrived, perfect. It might seem productive to come in early ahead of the office getting busy but in reality it just means Gavan and I have coffee and catch up - Gavan heads up our galleries team so he fills me in on what his team are working on at the moment. A commercial gallery are visiting later in the week to discuss a project he’s co-ordinating and they're loaning a lot of works to an upcoming exhibition I’m working on so I make a note to be available to say hi.
Everyone else starts to arrive in the office and the flurry of calls from our technicians updating us on terrible London traffic begins. One of our first jobs for the morning is a private address and someone has parked their luxury car in the middle of the road causing chaos, our technicians sit tight and we check in with the clients this will effect over the upcoming couple of hours without trying to make this sound too ludicrous a reason for a delay. It's Tuesday today so we leave this with operations to monitor and head to our weekly team meeting. We’ll chat through what we're working on, recent feedback, distribute some new projects and discuss the upcoming week. As ever after the meeting my to do list is looking significantly longer than before.
After lunch Meredith has met with one of our technical project managers and updates me on a current exhibition she's coordinating, the works are all large and need to go up a large staircase when we deliver. A few ideas discussed and she's back off to the lenders again to discuss the method statement for moving the works up the staircase further.
The vehicle that left this morning for the Netherlands is making good time so I call the venue - we'll still be there around 4pm to unload. Other good news of the day is that the owner of the parked car has returned. Hurrah!
All estimates from our team are double checked before being sent out so Tony and I look through one I drafted yesterday - Tony highlights a couple of my tying errors (to my annoyance) and we chat about a possible alternative routing to my proposal. We can't contact the lender so we both agree the route proposed is the most likely, but include cost for alternative routings/notes on other thoughts and yet another estimate from me is accompanied by a small essay of notes.
I go back to my inbox, reply to some more emails, make some more calls (as ever talk too much) and check my calendar. Wednesday is our day for 45minute training, I'm scheduled to lead the session tomorrow and following on from our refresher training at the airport a couple of weeks ago its courier based so I gather the courier information I've been saving and print everything out ready. Somehow its gone 5pm so I check everyone is on track to leave in the next hour – remarkably everyone is. The techs delivering in the Netherlands ring me to say they’ve offloaded, the vehicle around town is back too so I call it a day and try to remember what I said I’d get from Sainsburys for dinner!
UK Antarctic Heritage Trust
It is almost 250 years since Captain James Cook set out from Whitby in search of the southern continent. Since then and even before, man has had a fascination with the great white continent – it has presented the greatest challenges of endurance, survival, science and exploration.
[Fig 1. Captain Scott at the South Pole]
The UK Antarctic Heritage Trust was established in 1993 with ambitions to ensure the legacy of past human endeavour in Antarctica was secured for future generations. This work continues today through the management of six historic sites on the Antarctic Peninsula and through our support of others Polar heritage organisations across the world.
The six sites we care for represent different periods in British Antarctic involvement and science on the Antarctic Peninsula since 1944. They are designated under the Antarctic Treaty and we are obligated to protect them from damage, removal or destruction.
[Fig 2 Base A, Port Lockroy, Goudier Island, Antarctica 1944-62]
Conserving Antarctic Huts
Managing historic sites in general is complicated, time consuming, resource intensive and requires expertise, judgement and compromise. Managing heritage in Antarctica is all of those things tenfold! These wooden huts are placed 9,000 miles away from the UK in the middle of a frozen wasteland on harshest continent on earth. You can only access them via ship, and getting to them can be difficult and at times impossible.
Port Lockroy is the most visited site in Antarctica. As well as the museum, Port Lockroy also has a functioning Post Office and gift shop. The museum and its artefacts tell the story of those who lived and worked in this isolated wilderness.
[Fig 3 museum display at Port Lockroy]
The other sites are significantly harder to get to and are unsupervised. This means that conserving them can be much more problematic. We do what we can to stabilise the structures and make sure that they are weatherproof as possible to prevent them from deteriorating and to help protect the artefacts within. We want to keep them standing so that they can be around for future generations because all of these sites are irreplaceable and once lost will be gone forever.
There are a number of challenges we need to overcome to get this work done each season. Working in such cold conditions means that work is inevitably slower, fatigue can set in more quickly, fingers become clumsier and solvents will cure glacially slowly. So progress is never achieved at speed and a season’s work can sometimes seem paltry.
[Fig 4 Annual maintenance of the windows at Port Lockroy]
Despite the Antarctic’s incredibly low rainfall, damp is a significant problem and mould in the more northerly sites can be a problem. Similarly, achieving good ventilation to dry out timbers comes at the expense of weathertightness, as any gap will be severely exploited by wind driven snow and ice particles during the winter resulting in build-up of ice inside the buildings.
[Fig 5 Build-up of windblown snow in Base W, Detaille Island]
The long daylight hours and the strong UV levels in Antarctica also are a severe problem for many artefacts and the damaging effects of UV are soon apparent.
Normal museum pests are, mercifully, not such a problem, but other wildlife can prove destructive – gentoo penguins nest very close to, on and under buildings and are not shy about where they leave their waste. Fur seals can be both dangerous and clumsy, are curious, and often force their way inside structures.
[Fig 6 a common museum pest in Antarctica]
Who is it for?
The primary audience for our heritage sites are the tourists who visit, however we champion Antarctic heritage through many other forums so that it can inspire people all over the world with the stories of exploration and heroism that have come from Antarctica.
Port Lockroy gets around 18,000 visitors a year. The other sites, due to their precarious locations are visited by many fewer people.
[Fig 7 Visitors at Port Lockroy]
Most people will never visit our museums, however, the stories they carry can resonate with people all over the world. Through our grants programme we support polar exhibitions and galleries across the world and engage with people online through a plethora of digital media. We share stories of the buildings, the animals, and the people who lived there.
So, Antarctic conservation is certainly fraught with difficulties, but needs to be conducted with the same rigour, thoughtfulness and insight as any conservation project in more temperate climes.
Find out more about us, our work and our grants programme at www.ukaht.org.