Conserving Our Nation’s Heritage

26 March 2020


26 March 2020


Conserving our nation's heritage for future generations is as important now as ever before.

  • The SS Great Britain Trust is continuing to care for Brunel’s great ship using innovative and pioneering technology from home.
  • The Trust faces a unique funding challenge, shared with other independent museums with complex conservation requirements.
  • Museums across the world, including Brunel’s SS Great Britain, are sharing inspiring digital content, helping to enrich people’s lives.

As the UK enters lock-down as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, meticulous monitoring of the carefully balanced environment around the SS Great Britain’s iron hull goes on around the clock to ensure the ship is preserved for future generations.

Like most of the 100 staff and 250 volunteers at the charitable trust’s museum site in Bristol the Ship’s Conservation Engineer, Nicola Grahamslaw is working from home. However, her job uniquely makes use of pioneering technological solutions, all of which can be controlled remotely:

“It’s essential that even though we must stay at home, we continue to carefully control the environment around the SS Great Britain’s iron hull which would otherwise deteriorate by corroding in Bristol’s climate. But, thanks to two custom-built dehumidifiers which circulate very dry air beneath a ‘glass sea’, her fragile hull will remain intact for generations.”

“The technology monitoring the humidity and air circulation 24-hours-a-day involves a network of sensors and controls. This means I can monitor and adjust the equipment over the internet from home and keep an eye on essential maintenance needs.”

“This has all been made possible in the last year thanks to a grant from the DCMS Wolfson Museums and Galleries Improvement Fund and the support of our Members, with upgraded software and new sensors already enabling the Trust to work towards addressing the climate emergency by minimising our energy needs. But it is also particularly important under the current circumstances, as it means much of the work to keep the ship safe can be done remotely.”

The ongoing conservation and charitable work of the SS Great Britain Trust costs £2 million a year. As the city’s top-rated visitor attraction, much of that cost is met from visitor ticket income.

With the dockyard gates temporarily closed and the longer term tourism economy uncertain, the charity is taking steps to ensure that Brunel’s pioneering ship can continue to inspire visitors when the museum re-opens.

This not only involves continuous monitoring of the conservation environment, but also looking at funding streams so that expert staff are retained and supported. Many of the trust’s staff are currently working on digital learning programmes and developing inspiring online content, bringing stories from the museum’s collections to people’s homes at this difficult time.

Matthew Tanner, Chief Executive of the SS Great Britain Trust and President of the International Congress of Maritime Museums, said:

“Like other independent museums across the world, the SS Great Britain Trust continues to care for our nation’s heritage, with an unwavering commitment to ongoing conservation. We are incredibly grateful to supporters and donors who are already helping us to continue much of the essential work, but more support is needed. We’re working with museum sector peers to update Government on the sector’s challenges which span complex conservation as well as established education programmes, particularly for ‘home schoolers’ just now.”

“The nation’s safety and health is the priority, and it’s absolutely right for this to be the focus. Nevertheless, more than ever before, museums across the world can play an important role in enriching people’s lives. We shall, of course, be here for people to visit and enjoy when this challenge is over, but we’re also online now with our curators, educators and content teams bringing collection stories and passenger stories to life digitally.”

Nerys Watts, Director of External Affairs at the SS Great Britain Trust, said:

“We are privileged to look after a significant piece of our nation’s heritage and Brunel’s legacy. We receive no core Government funding and, even with our main income source from visitor tickets immediately stopped, we continue to invest in caring for these nationally Designated collections of 70,000 objects as well as the SS Great Britain herself.”

“The incredible support we receive from the public at this time is hugely appreciated. People are kindly buying annual tickets online which provides the charity with essential income while still giving them a full year of unlimited visits to the museum, valid from the first date they choose to visit.”

Audiences across the world can enjoy content – including a new virtual ‘Archive in Five’ session with museum curators – at and the Trust’s social media channels Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. They can also sign up to a monthly e-newsletter.

Find out how you can support the SS Great Britain

About Brunel’s SS Great Britain

Brunel’s SS Great Britain is one of the UK’s top museums, recently winning the European Museum of the Year Award as Europe’s Most Welcoming Museum. The SS Great Britain is now in her original dry dock where she was built in 1843. Visitors can have a full day out, in and under the ship and explore the life and works of one of the world’s greatest engineers in Being Brunel.

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