There’s so much left to discover
National Trust places and spaces aren’t set in aspic – the role of the curator is to draw out stories, make discoveries and keep developing them for the future. By Katie Taylor, Curator
I’ve worked for the National Trust for over 10 years, starting when I took on the role of House Steward at Dunham Massey while completing my MA at the University of Manchester. I spent 10 years at Dunham, during which time I learnt a great deal about managing a historic house, a collection and importantly how to help visitors engage with the past. I then moved into my current role as one of five National Trust curators in the North of England. This new role is a challenge and I do miss having a collection of my own, but the breadth of opportunity to learn and the chance to shape how people interact with our amazing places was just too good to pass up.
Diversity and collaboration
The National Trust has such diverse places in its care that no two days are the same. One day I can be thinking about how to convey the hardships of life in an 1820s mill workers cottage at Quarry Bank, the next I can be focusing on the 1950s at John Lennon’s childhood home. It’s a really collaborative way of working here. A National Trust curator becomes an expert in the places they work with, but they are generalists, helping to bring context, meaning and relevance to a wide range of places for a wide range of people. We work with experts to help us understand and plan the development of our sites. We work with a range of buildings, collections, gardens and landscapes that means we consider our places as an object in their own right. The best thing is the privilege of knowing that we are caring for the places where history happened which brings a real truth in what we do.
My biggest achievement so far, is that I was part of the team that developed the First World War experience, Sanctuary from the Trenches, which was shortlisted for the Art Fund Prize for Museum of the Year. The skills I developed on that project led me to where I am today, and my involvement in re-shaping the experience at Quarry Bank, opening spaces that have never been seen by the public before that communicate a whole different narrative for Quarry Bank and will challenge a lot of pre-conceptions of our industrial past; it’s a once-in-a-career opportunity.
I love working with people and sharing my passion for our history and how it connects to the way we live our lives today: the Trust encourages me to do both of those things. I get to spend time in some beautiful places, working with beautiful things and get paid for the privilege. Best of all, what I do shapes how these places are seen, but if I do my job well, you shouldn’t notice: that’s when I know I’ve got it right.
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