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By Rupinder Sandhu on

Decant Diary: Preparing for the Special Exhibitions Gallery

If you visited the museum between April and June this year, you may well have seen a buzz of activity around the site. Project Collections Information Officer Rupinder Sandhu explains what's been going on.

Image of maintenance workers moving an engine from a basement.

There were 1950s computers being lifted out of the side of the 1830 Warehouse, huge engines being hoisted up through the ground as if by magic (but actually through a hatch on the side of the building in the lower yard), and pallets holding all kinds of objects being moved about on forklifts.

This was all part of the first stage in the development of the Special Exhibitions Gallery, a new space being created by the museum to host exciting temporary exhibitions, which is set to open in the 1830 Warehouse in late 2018.

A team of three full-time staff (myself, a Conservator, and a Collections Assistant) began the decant (or clearing out) of the old galleries in April, to prepare the space for building work.

As the Project Collections Information Officer, I’m the person who makes sure objects are correctly accounted for, and it has been mine and the team’s job to move all the objects from the old galleries into storage.

You may think “Oh, that’s easy. You just pick it up and carry it, or wheel it to wherever it needs to go!” However, this is far from the truth, and to say it has been a challenge would be quite an understatement. There are a number of reasons the project has not been straightforward:

  • The galleries being decanted were Underground Manchester, Gas Gallery, Energy for the Future, Computing Manchester, Energy in the Home, the Electricity Gallery Basement, and Making of Manchester. This meant that we had to clear approximately 600 objects in three months.
  • The building itself was also a challenge to navigate. It’s Grade 1 listed, so you have to be very careful that you aren’t going to damage the walls, doors or ceilings. Also, when moving objects, you have to think about their travel routes. Which way do we get the object out of the building? Do we need to shut any spaces to be able to make it easier for us?
  • Importantly, we also needed to consider the objects themselves. Are they safe to travel? Do they need any repair or stabilising? Do they have any hazards, such as mercury or oil? How big are they? Will they go through the door, or do they need dismantling? How much do they weigh? Some of the objects (especially in the basement) weighed around 5 tonnes.
  • Lastly, we had to work to a clearly defined timetable. We had one week to clear small objects, and then two weeks to clear larger objects. Even though we had three months for the physical lifting, we had to be on hand for the contractors lifting the larger objects, in case they had any questions. At the same time, the team were also moving the smaller objects from the next gallery, checking them off lists, and carrying out conservation. We always had to stay a step ahead, whilst keeping track of the present.

Image of collections team member tending to a cloth banner.


Overall, the decant went well, and we’d like to apologise for any disruptions. However, we are now finished and waiting for the building works to start early next year. In the meantime, my team and I are busy finishing project paperwork, and completing tasks we didn’t have time to do during the move, such as carrying out complex conservation work on objects that had been waiting patiently for attention.

Though the decant was a stressful experience at times, it was also great fun. We had brilliant contractors and a hard-working team here, so we were able to laugh through the stress. A sense of humour came in handy when we were all stood around the hole by the 1830 Warehouse, hoping and praying that the 3-tonne boiler pump feed would come out of the basement unmarked.

I was also able to impress the contractors with my fork lifting skills; in fact, I even had a small child cheer at me whilst I was driving a forklift, carrying a full pallet to the store. He was in awe; I was concentrating on driving, while the visitors were watching me closely (argh, the pressure!). For me, that was best day – the child cheered and the object safely made it into the store.

Anyway, I hope this post has given some context of what we were doing and here at the museum and what we have in store, and that you’re now excited for what is to come with the Special Exhibitions Gallery!

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