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25.03.2020

Icon Member and BPG Chair Abigail Bainbridge ACR: Conservators and their institutions donate PPE to hospitals

Amidst global shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) like the P95 masks that have dominated the news, conservators all over the world are donating their stocks to local hospitals. Despite assurances from authorities that there are enough stocks of PPE to go around and that further large deliveries are on their way, there appear to be some temporary interruptions in the supply chain at the moment, with doctors worldwide speaking publicly about concerns over current or expected shortages. 

On behalf of the Icon Book & Paper Group, I got in touch with the National Museum Directors’ Council, who were communicating with the NHS about how to best coordinate efforts. They advised our Group to take any supplies that could be used by doctors and other hospital staff directly to local hospitals. As a result of a swift but effective communications campaign on Twitter we were able to encourage many conservators and conservation scientists to gather up their PPE and offer it to their local NHS trust. Others have brought boxes of PPE home knowing that they would shortly lose access to their studios and supplies. These supplies will be passed on as the need arises.

I know that many other institutions are also aware of this issue and have been taking similar steps; freelance conservators and small conservation businesses have offered their support in their local areas too. We are extremely proud to be part of this collective effort by the conservation community to support our wonderful NHS.

The following list is a snapshot of the help offered to the NHS by conservators and their institutions:

  • The Parliamentary Archives donated to Guys & St Thomas Hospital.
  • The Horniman Museum donated to a London hospital.
  • London Metropolitan Archives donated to St. Bartholomew’s Hospital.
  • Bainbridge Conservation donated to a women’s refuge in east London.
  • The Churchill Archives Centre gave PPE to the Churchill College nurse to distribute.
  • The Victoria & Albert Museum donated to the London Ambulance Service.
  • The British Library are in the process of organising a donation to the London Ambulance Service.
  • Historic England Archaeologists donated to the ambulance station in Fareham.
  • The Ashmolean Museum conservation department coordinated donations to the London Ambulance Service from: The Ashmolean; Gardens, Libraries and Museums (GLAM); University of Oxford; History of Science Museum; Oxford Museum of Natural History
  • The Postal Museum (Clerkenwell)
  • The British Museum
  • The National Trust
  • The National Gallery
  • Museum of the Order of St John has donated to a local hospital
  • The National Archives have donated to the London Ambulance Service
  • The V&A textiles conservation studio and the National Archives are in the process of donating large quantities of Tyvek to the Emergency Designers’ Network to make masks.

In total the institutions listed above have donated approximately:

  • 86.2 boxes of masks (862 individual ones)
  • 234 boxes of gloves (23,400 individual pairs)
  • 100–300 aprons
  • 28 coveralls
  • Tyvek suits

But we're sure that these numbers don't tell the whole story! If your institution made a donation and we can recognise you here, please get in touch with me at iconbpg@gmail.com. And if you still have access to your supplies, or know someone else who is, please consider donating, or being prepared to donate if you become aware of a need near you.

Icon and its members are deeply grateful for the hard work and dedication of the NHS staff and we admire their courage and fortitude at this challenging time. We offer our sincere thanks to every individual who is working to care for people during the COVID-19 outbreak. We stand ready to offer further support where we can. 

Written by Abigail Bainbridg ACR, Chair of Icon Book and Paper Group. Abby is an Icon Accredited Member specialising in conservation of books and paper.

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Image: Ashmolean-coordinated donation, photo by Morwenna Blewett.

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