New Lanark is a cotton mill manufacturing village, notable for the successful social reforms imposed here by Robert Owen. The village is secluded from the main town of Lanark, within a valley on the banks of the Clyde River and the Falls of Clyde.
A few times a week for the past 3 to 4 months, I have travelled by train from Glasgow to Lanark, before taking the bus into the mill village of New Lanark. This route has little changed from the days when the mills were active and visitors would come from far and wide to witness Owen’s social reforms. It is extremely easy to imagine myself visiting the site a hundred years ago.
Once in the village, I make my way to the offices of the New Lanark Conservation Trust, within one of the old mills and still to this day an operating wool mill. Also located here is the search room, where objects and archival material are stored and research takes place. This room became something of a second home to me during my time here. Equipped with all manner of archival material and artefacts, I was in heaven.
My main task was to complete a full inventory of the objects which are stored in this room, combining skills in object handling with data entry. This was a particularly fun and exciting task, as it required close interaction and analysis of all sorts of different artefacts. I was able to get up close and touch these objects, examining them so as to obtain as much information as possible. This was an extremely thrilling opportunity that is almost unique to New Lanark, as being able to handle objects of such an age is generally forbidden to volunteers in most institutions. I was also able to contribute to the development of an upcoming exhibition and assist in the installation of one that was opening during my time there. By volunteering my services to a smaller, world heritage organisation, there was a lot of opportunity to gain experience and contribute to all the different sub-teams which make up the heritage department. This was really beneficial to my study but also a lot of fun, getting to witness the behind the scenes of how these institutions function, in all aspects. I never would have thought, at the beginning of my internship, that I would have been able to take part in so many different projects and develop so many professional skills. Perhaps this was the highlight of my experience at New Lanark, as I was able to interact with a lot of different people, who are all passionate about the historic conservation and promotion of the site. Everybody was extremely patient, encouraging questions and communication so as to develop my skills as far as possible.
More than anything, the real joy of coming to a town such as New Lanark every day is the immersive experience. This is the defining aspect that sets world heritage sights apart from museums. By being here, I have been able to interact with objects that were used by people in the very place I stand. There is no need to imagine the locations that are discussed in documents when I can merely look out the window and see for myself. It is truly an incredible feeling and one which I hope many more people will be able to experience.
If you have the opportunity to volunteer at New Lanark World Heritage site, or just visit the truly extraordinary landscape, architecture and the stories of the people who lived and worked here, I can recommend nothing more rewarding.