Laura Daenke, Student, University of Canberra

As a third year conservation student at the University of Canberra, I have been excited to start spreading my wings and experiencing what is out there in the conservation/heritage world. While many students at the University were completing winter semester, I escaped frosty Canberra’s to travel to the United Kingdom and engage in informal work experience in various conservation studios across England. During my time in England I was also lucky enough to be involved in the very first Open Palace Programme (OPP). 

Bristol became my home away from home when I was in England as I spent three weeks undertaking work experience with the object conservators at the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery. Not only did I work on some very interesting objects and use the skills I had learnt at university in practice, but I also learnt how much conservators valued their tea and biscuit breaks!

The Open Palace Programme ran from 22 June to 12 July and started off with a week in the historic city of Bath. During this first week it was a pleasure getting to know the mentors and the other 17 participants who had travelled from America, Canada, London and Australia to be a part of the program. The group consisted of people who were starting their careers in the heritage profession.

Stowe House – View from magnificent 18th century gardensIt was in Bath that the group experienced privileged access to the sites belonging to the Bath Preservation Trust. These sites included No. 1 Royal Crescent, Beckford’s Tower and The Building of Bath Collection at the Countess of Huntingdon’s Chapel. A typical day consisted of focused seminars presented by the professionals who worked for the Preservation Trust. Our group would then be split into smaller groups and given ‘challenges’ that were relevant to the sites, to work through and then present and discuss.

Next stop, after Bath, was Stowe House, a grand 18th century house and garden with a fascinating history. The group joined senior staff at Stowe House to gain insights into the development of the palace and its settings. During our time at Stowe the group saw conservation in action, learnt about estate management, and considered challenges with the development of the new visitor centre. On one of the evenings we were privileged to enjoy a beautiful dinner in the house itself.

After our time at Stowe House the OPP group was off to London to spend our last week. London spoilt us with a series of participative sessions at the three largest Historic Royal Palaces: Hampton Court, Kensington Palace and the Tower of London. The sessions were run by specialists from the Historic Royal Palaces’ education curatorial, collections and building conservation teams.

By the end of the three weeks the OPP group was no longer a group, but a family. The OPP had given us all a once in a lifetime opportunity to see some of England’s historic sites and meet the passionate people who work behind the scenes to care for and interpret the sites. The people I met, the friendships made, the things I saw and experienced all made my trip to the UK incredibly rewarding and valuable!