Meet Tyntesfield trainee Graham Millard

Published : Wed 8th Feb Author : National Trust

Having worked in many mundane roles throughout my working life, I was really excited to have been accepted on the Passport training scheme. Based at Tyntesfield, I have been working on the ‘Tyntesfield Unpacked’ project, where I have been dressing one of the never-before-seen rooms as part of the new visitor route being unveilled this spring. Although we’re celebrating the tenth year the Trust has had the house, there’s still so much to be done, providing plenty of exciting opportunities to learn from.

Looking back on my first two weeks as a newbie:

The passage of time in my first two weeks seemed to fly by in a haze of faces, names, locks, keys, procedures, rooms and corridors. Luckily I had a really good team behind me who were ready and willing to provide support and advice with a smile. I also met an army of volunteers whose life experience and skills were really beneficial.

On one occasion, having been informed that front of house was a man down due to sickness, I was asked if I felt confident enough to take their place that morning working alongside another volunteer. I was quickly impressed by the depth and breadth of knowledge they had. Through this first hand experience, and the excellent support and advice from the volunteer, I gained an awareness of security, health and safety and access issues as well as the importance in providing a good impression being the first point of contact for visitors entering the house.

A part of developing a greater understanding of the property – which meant learning the basics, such as being able to successfully find my way to the staff room instead of ending up in the kitchen – was the ‘Torch Light Tour’, where I was invited to explore the house one afternoon with two other newly recruited members of staff. Armed with a light and map we were released to explore the corridors and rooms at liberty where I discovered many fascinating things. The day nursery was of particular interest. Inside, alongside books, a puppet show stage and the Victorian equivalent to a modern day ice cream van in the form of a miniature vendor’s stall on wheels, laid two, balding teddy bears. I have since learned that once upon a time they were the beloved possessions of the late Lord Wraxall and his brother, Eustace.

Seeing them in the very room that both men would have spent much time in as children is the closest brush with time-travel I think I will ever experience. After leaving the room, I was brought back to the present and introduced to some of the challenges faced in conserving these time-slips for future generations to enjoy when asked to assist in the library.

Here, I confronted one of the arch-enemies to conservation: dust. Being the first room that visitors arrived in, this library was subject to an overly-generous flouring of the substance. The problem was made more acute by the objects on show in this room, which had a higher level of vulnerability to this agent of deterioration than some of the other items elsewhere in the house.

As well as carrying out suction tests on the furniture fabrics, and recording the information gathered, I was allowed to carry out much of the necessary work alongside the team. This also gave me an excellent opportunity to answer queries from inquisitive visitors and learn from the room interpreters there. On another day I helped constrain carpets when moth larvae were found and had the health and safety issues, as well as the correct procedures to follow when undertaking these tasks, thoroughly explained.

Another aspect which has made a big impression on me was having the opportunity to meet a number of people working in a variety of roles related to collections. I feel this has not only provided me with valuable insights into the structure of the National Trust and the challenges faced in each role, but also how the integration of these skills serve to protect our heritage.

Overall, within the first two weeks of my placement I feel as though I have gained a lot on many levels; the chance to work with volunteers, meet visitors, answer queries, as well as having the opportunity to develop a deeper understanding of the collection, the roles related to it and the challenges faced in protecting it. This time was made all the more pleasurable by a warm and welcoming team who did their utmost to provide me with as much experience and support as possible – as well as lots of biscuits and cake, which always goes down well in my books.