Case study

Conservator — Naomi Watts-Kitto

As a conservator for Chester Cathedral, Naomi has experience of a range of conservation techniques. Find out more about her role and how she hopes to further develop her skills

What degree did you study?

I studied for a BA Hons Conservation and Restoration (now titled BA Hons Conservation of Cultural Heritage) at the University of Lincoln. I graduated in 2018 with a first-class honours degree.

How did you get your job?

As part of my course, I completed a six-week work-based placement with a private conservation company in Norfolk. After graduating, I decided to become self-employed so that I could become a contractor and participate in a wide variety of projects.

In the summer of 2019, I was hired to restore a wall-mounted mosaic at Chester Cathedral. After the project was completed, I was invited to apply for a job at the cathedral as their conservator as they had just re-established their internal works department.

What's a typical working day like?

Most recently, I have started a conservation and restoration job on another mosaic within the cathedral. This has involved the removal of a series of inappropriate coverings, ranging from carpet to varnish, all of which were suffocating the tesserae underneath, and exacerbating already present issues with salt efflorescence.

Periods of wind and heavy rainfall also present challenges, as water will start coming in to places it hasn't before. There have been times when we have had to come in after hours to prevent major catastrophes from occurring.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I enjoy having the opportunity to work on a variety of historic materials from completely different periods of history. I also like meeting and working with a variety of people, and explaining what I do.

What are the challenges?

Changing people's attitudes can be challenging, for example convincing them that just because they've done something a particular way for ten years, doesn't make it the right thing to do. I can usually achieve this by explaining why it isn't right to do something a particular way and how it can be damaging to the object, but sometimes it can take a bit more convincing.

Funding is also an issue. Conservation projects tend to not be cheap, so finding funding can be difficult and time consuming.

How is your degree relevant?

I've used skills that I learned while doing my degree throughout my career to date. These include practical skills such as gilding. I've also used the knowledge I gained to  develop and test harder-wearing mortar samples for different areas of the building, depending on whether they're internal or external facing surfaces.

How has your role developed and what are your career ambitions?

I am currently the only conservator at Chester Cathedral, so I am responsible for conservation of the building and the estate. In the future, I hope to commence my MA and become accredited, so that I can write management plans for the cathedral and other institutions in the wider area.

What advice can you give to others wanting to get into this job?

  • Don't be afraid. Everyone has been in the same position at the start of their career.
  • Nothing happens overnight, and not everyone is presented with the same opportunities. You will get your moment.
  • Be prepared to go down other specialism routes. However, if you know what it is you want to do, then work as hard as you can and give it your all. In the same breath, don't forget to think about yourself (your physical/mental health). Starting out can be really hard, so it's okay to be a little selfish sometimes.

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