Starting a Social Conservation Business
I have been running my own company for 7 years since taking voluntary redundancy from the National Museum of Wales in 2014, I started ‘Pure Conservation’ a natural science conservation company that same year and have not looked back, however after the second lockdown in 2021 something had changed.
My profession is quite niche and there is little opportunity to meet up with my fellow natural science conservators to discuss areas of interest or problem solve, as we are all so far flung. Not only that but we are more likely to be working in competition than in collaboration. Having worked in a multidisciplinary institution for many years, I felt a strong desire for that exchange of ideas and being part of a team again.
When lockdown ended I began to reavaluate my own working practice. Covid has impacted so many lives, it has made us revaluate our lifestyle and our relationships, and affected every aspect of our home and working lives. So, at the end of the last lockdown, I decided to change and improve my working life, to move in a different direction, to engage with my fellow conservators again, but be more sustainable, resilient and inclusive.
I started seeking out 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 great relationships 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, through no-ones fault, 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 a possibility, 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.
I have a great network of friends and conservation colleagues and I was able to discuss my ideas and gain better direction from them. Armed with a hefty proposal I contacted Business Wales. I heard back from them in June, stating they were interested in my proposal and that they thought it could be a community interest company.
In July I attended the Icon conference Positive Resilience where I heard Impact Heritage discussing their CIC lockdown venture. I discussed with the team the idea that I had, and the feedback from the Icon delegates was incredibly positive and I met with some of the Icon members which are now Connect core team members.
Starting this business initiative was basically a sole venture which took months to progress. This was mainly due to unfamiliar business language and not having help guiding me through terminology and basic protocols. Business Wales had decided that the company would not be a viable business and so had withdrawn all support. This was a major blow, but fortunately I was put in contact with the Wales Cooperative who provided me with all the necessary tools to progress the business, including the documents for registration. 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 and car sharing. We share our broad and varied skills and knowledge, and we can discuss approaches to work and problem solve as a group. This initiative also reduces lone working, bringing not only the physical, health and safety benefits, but the mental health ones too, as we know that lockdown has intensified the challenges of living and working alone.
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, and hope to have more success stories in the future.
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.
We currently have a membership of 30 conservators working in Wales. Every one of these individuals is offered the same opportunities to tender for work through Connect. Success is usually dependant on their availability, their specialism and who replies first! So far, we have employed 8 conservators and undertaken 3 projects. We also have training courses that we are keen to develop and are happy to hear from other conservators looking for specific training needs and the necessary studio space.
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.
Connect-Conserve Cymru is now a collaboration of approximately 30 conservators from very varied disciplines, but we do still undertake natural science conservation. The most 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.
Whilst we were there working, we were filmed, and this footage is going to be televised on a primetime TV programme ‘Mammoth Graveyards’ on the 30th December at 8pm on on BBC 1. Unbeknown to us at the time, this programme will have Ben Garrod presenting and narration by Sir David Attenborough himself!
It has taken a lot of time, long hours, and dedication to get Connect up and running. Not one of us has been paid a penny since starting this project, but having completed our project work, that should all change soon. There was a time when I thought I could easily back out, but the flood of support and interest from other conservators wanting me to continue and for them to become involved has kept me going. I am happy to say there is still new interest and continuing support for this social enterprise.
If you are an accredited conservator or an emerging professional working in Wales, 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.
Please spread the word so that we can support more individuals and more community groups through teaching and helping but mainly through connecting conservation. Next year we should have a website domain and a dedicated email address but in the meantime you can contact me at [email protected], but in the meantime:
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