Setting goals is key to contract work in the heritage industry

Sophie Slade

Sophie Slade

First published in News The Oxford Times: Photograph of the Author by

Creaking floorboards and ancient attics hold no fears for Sophie Slade. The arts and heritage consultant spent years working alone in a period house-turned-museum, once home to a leading figure in the arts and crafts movement.

She said: “As the only salaried member of staff I was there on my own a lot of the time.

“My office was right at the top of the house and in winter, when it was dark by 4pm, there were moments when I found it a bit spooky.”

Ms Slade, who lives in the Folly Bridge area of Oxford, has also worked at the Victoria & Albert Museum, The Museum of London and the Charles Dickens Museum.

For the past two and a half years she has been project co-ordinator for the University Church of St Mary the Virgin, which reopened in March following a £5m refurbishment. She leaves St Mary’s at the end of this month.

An interest in architecture, museums and costumes led her to study 3D design at Middlesex University .

After an MA in history of textiles at Winchester University Ms Slade did work experience in the costume department of the Museum of London.

“My goal was to be a costume curator but fate pushed me away,” she explained.

“I have ended up tackling wider aspects of museums, for instance the finance, fundraising and getting a volunteer programme started.”

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At the Museum of London she found herself looking after collections, doing moth checks and administrative work.

When a paid post came up, cataloguing for the costume collection, she applied and got the job.

Her next job was at V&A as an assistant curator in the Far Eastern section of the Asian department.

She said: “I was suddenly working with ancient objects and pottery and some costumes, including the most amazing dragon robes.”

After that it was on to Grade-I listed Apsley House, former home of the Duke of Wellington.

“It was like working in a miniature Buckingham Palace,” she said.

“I was thrown in the deep end and had to tackle things like marketing, budgeting and dealing with facilities management. It made me more dynamic.”

Sophie, who is in her late 30s, then became curator at the Charles Dickens Museum in Bloomsbury, where she stayed for two years.

She then spent three years at Emery Walker’s former home, now full of arts and crafts treasures. .

She said: “The heritage industry is too short-term contract based.

“Having to leave when you are in the middle of something is frustrating because it can take up to two years for something to come to fruition. But it’s taught me about having to set my own priorities and goals.”

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