As we receive applications for 2015’s programmes, Scholarship and Fellowship organiser, Pip Soodeen reminisces about her time as a Scholar in 1999.
I first heard about the SPAB when a clerk of works gave me some SPAB technical pamphlets on my year out. These remained buried for 10 years until I decided to find a job in building conservation. I dug them out, became a member and read about the Scholarship in the magazine.
The Scholarship was filled with many truly memorable moments but what really stuck with me was a visit to St Paul’s Cathedral. I remember looking down through little holes in the scaffolded dome of the roof space to see the visitors below and then looking across the Thames to see the pods for the Millennium Eye being delivered to site. The hands-on experiences were incredible too: lime harling at the Scottish Lime Centre and working with timber at Whitney Sawmills. I vividly remember making a lead shell by dressing a sheet of lead at Lodge & Sons. I thought I’d done a beautiful job but my co-Scholars thought it looked like a dustbin lid!
SPAB has always encouraged potential Scholars to meet other Scholars before applying so they would know exactly what they were letting themselves in for. I met up with Simon Cartlidge, his wife Sarah, and Marianne Suhr. I was encouraged by their enthusiasm; Simon said “it will change your life”. I thought he was exaggerating but the nine month programme really did! You gain contacts that are willing to share their knowledge of materials, techniques and suppliers. Anything you want to know someone you meet on the programme will have the answer for you.
After the Scholarship I returned to south Wales to spend an invaluable 9 months with Ty Mawr Lime in Brecon gaining an even greater love of lime before joining Alwyn Jones Penseiri Architects, in Taff’s Well. Here I was able to work on conservative repair projects on private and National Trust properties. I only stayed for 2 years as happily my first son Joe was born and two years later my second son Ben came along. In between sons I assisted the design officer and the conservation officer at Swansea City Council which is based in a lovely Art Deco Guildhall (later repaired by Fellow Tom Flemons).
In 2008 I took over the running of the Fellowship programme from Rachel Bower who had run both the Scholarship and the Fellowship programmes for the last 20 years. Upon Rachel’s retirement I took on the Scholarship programme too and I’m now in my second year of running both schemes. My time as a Scholar is obviously invaluable to me in my role now.
I am lucky enough to have already met many of the people who still host the Scholars and Fellows. I am mindful of how difficult it can be to get a group of 3 or 4 students around a site and hold their attention. I also appreciate that it can be difficult to park up at a site, grab your hard hat and be ready to absorb perhaps a year’s worth of study from an onsite host. But this is what the Scholarship and Fellowship programme teaches you to do!