By Fiona Booth, Digital Engagement Officer

As a member of the Programmes Team, I’m not directly involved in the physical move of the Museum and Art Gallery’s collections. That’s primarily been the significant task for our Collections Team and our MA Team (front of house) with volunteers ably supporting. However, it’s been really interesting to go into the main building recently to see what’s been happening.

The first noticeable thing when you walk into our foyer – once a central meeting point for people coming in – is that it’s now a holding zone for items that were previously in galleries or storage and are now ready to leave the building for their temporary home.

I pass through the foyer when going to meetings or catching up with staff and am always struck by the amount of packing materials being held here, as well as the number of boxes that have been processed. It’s usually a hive of activity! Not being in the galleries every day, it’s really noticeable to see what has been moved each week. When I speak to staff and volunteers involved, I really start to appreciate the effort that has gone into planning the decant, let alone physically carrying it out.

Claire, Val and Tina from our MA Team are working through the World Cultures objects that were in the stores. Each object in each box is checked and paperwork completed. Before the box can leave the building, the packing within it is checked too. Some of the groundwork is in place because a World Cultures project a few years ago included storage improvements. This was long before the History Centre project became a reality however, so extra care needs to be taken if objects are packed in layers within a box, for example. Then some inventive work happens, often structuring string or tape within the box, to ensure that delicate parts of an object are protected on their journey out of the building.

Our shop and café area is now a ceramics working area and I really enjoy looking at all sorts of objects while they’re being packed here. I followed Vicky and Jane to see what’s involved in packing this collection.  Off to the basement they went with a trolley, to bring up the next lot of ceramics to be packed. This involves carefully removing the items from their shelving – as you can see, they are stored behind glass doors. They’re placed in the trolley and the trip back upstairs is carefully made to a huge workstation where the packing can begin.

For our curators, packing objects that were on display can present their own challenges. For example, some objects that were on display in our ‘Bringing the World to Plymouth’ gallery were nicely mounted and it would be a shame to repack the object differently. Other objects would have not been stored in boxes at all. These now require boxes so they can be transported offsite.  Sometimes the object won’t fit in a standard box so a new bespoke one has to be made!

The physical move is not the only challenge. As part of the collections care process we must ensure we document the new location of all our objects once they’ve been moved. So, before each item is packed the accession number is noted on a transportation sheet. The number of the box it’s being stored in is also recorded. To assist with this process we’ve got PCs located in our galleries. This enables us to update the database as swiftly as possible. Once these details have been captured, the object moves onto be packed.

A woman holding a bowl, whilst sitting at a desk with a computer

Checking the object details on the database

I can’t imagine having to do this each time I moved house! The amount of planning this has taken is considerable – but we are now over half way through the decant with more objects out of the building than in it. This is a massive achievement for all involved.