One of the questions we get asked most when we do conservation work in front of the public is how we got our jobs working for the National Trust. As this is my last post on the blog (I start a new job next week), I thought it was the perfect time to answer this question. Obviously I can only speak for my own experiences, but as my path into the Trust is quite a common one, it might prove helpful – either if you’re interested in working in heritage or just plain interested.
My parents took me to historic houses from an early age (once I’d learned to behave myself!), which could have resulted in me either loving them or hating them; fortunately, it was the former. When it came to what to study at university it seemed natural to choose History. I didn’t focus on a particular era, instead studying topics as diverse as medieval architecture, Victorian death rituals, Marco Polo’s travels, and the Spanish Inquisition. Although my degree is relevant to my current job, it’s not a necessity – other members of the house team have degrees as diverse as Geography, Architecture, and Fine Art, and one doesn’t have a degree.
When I left university I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do as a career and ended up pursuing a career in publishing before deciding it wasn’t for me. It wasn’t until my parents mentioned one day that the daughter of friends of theirs had just got a job working for English Heritage that I even considered a career in heritage myself. Unsure of how to go about this, I enquired at local museums and ended up volunteering at two of them. At one I helped to condition report and pack paintings for transportation to a new storage facility, and at the other I catalogued items on their computer database. Everyone has to start somewhere, and volunteering for a museum or historic house is a fantastic way to gain the experience you need to go on and get a paid job (almost every member of the house team started this way). It will also help you decide whether working in heritage is definitely for you.
After volunteering for a few months I started searching for paid work and landed a job working for English Heritage at Osborne House. This was a seven-month contract, mostly working in the shop and reception, but occasionally room guiding in the house. While I didn’t do any conservation work, my time there along with my experience at the museums helped me get a part-time job as a Conservation Assistant at Petworth House, a National Trust property in West Sussex. I’d only been there a month when I also got a six-month internship at Polesden Lacey. Between the two I learned all about the correct way to clean and conserve antiques and how to run an historic property. As with volunteering, internships are a great opportunity to get experience in your chosen field, and many National Trust properties have them.
After just over a year at Petworth the full-time job of Conservation and Learning Assistant at Polesden came up, and as I jumped at the chance. I was able to expand on what I’d already learned and have new opportunities – from gaining a scaffold licence to planning a half-term activity for children, to managing volunteers and learning all about interpretation and research. Having been here a year and a half as staff and thoroughly enjoyed (almost) every minute of it, I’m very sorry to be leaving. Next week I start a new job as Assistant House Steward at Chartwell – staying with the Trust! – which I wouldn’t have got if it wasn’t for all my experience elsewhere.
Finally, here are a couple of useful websites: as well as the National Trust jobs website and the English Heritage one, the University of Leicester has a fantastic website for finding jobs in museums and historic houses not just in England, but around the world.
Conservation and Learning Assistant