Real Life Stories- York Museums Trust, living the high life


Living The High Life

Modern buildings are specifically designed to be functional, environmentally friendly and safe places to work, live and play but hundreds of years ago when much of York was being built, life in the 21st century wasn’t a feature on the architects’ list of priorities.

Today, visitors to the famous city can explore endless numbers of historic buildings ranging from haphazard medieval castles through to elegant Georgian mansions and whilst visitors ponder what life might have been like in a previous era, it’s difficult to imagine what it takes to maintain these buildings.

Des Mahon who works as Building Services and Safety Manager at York Museums Trust, which manages a portfolio of 17 historic buildings in York, explains: “When you’re dealing with buildings that are hundreds of years old great care has to be taken in every single aspect of the building’s maintenance. One small mistake can mean that a piece of history is lost forever.”

York Museums Trust is an independent charitable trust and manages a wide range of well-known York landmarks including York Castle Museum, Yorkshire Museum and Gardens, York Art Gallery and York St Mary’s on behalf of The City of York Council, which has agreed to long-term funding of the trust.

Des continues: “We have hundreds of thousands of people visiting our sites every year and their safety, combined with that of our staff, is absolutely paramount. Visitor attractions such as museums are often considered to be low risk but they can often contain many of the hazards found in industry.

“Plus, when you consider that a lot of the buildings were designed and built for very different purposes and in a completely different era it adds a whole new dimension to how we operate. In a medieval building everything becomes more difficult because they often have high ceilings, narrow flights of stairs and low doorways.

“This means that even a simple job, such as changing a light bulb, can be a big challenge because they’re often positioned in high places and it can be difficult to manoeuvre ladders and steps through the narrow corridors and into position. Plus this obviously means using anything bigger, such as a cherry picker, as you might in a modern building, would be impossible.

“Then the floors are often uneven so using either normal or A-frame ladders can be dangerous so we recently began looking for a solution to this problem. After considering a number of options we decided to invest in a Telescopic Work Platform from Slingsby.”
Des adds: “The company’s sales representative visited our premises to see exactly what the issues were and explained how the product could overcome all our access problems. So far it’s been a huge success because it can be dismantled into small sections and it’s on wheels which makes it easy to move and erect in different areas. Plus our staff feel comfortable using it because it has safety rails surrounding the toe boards as well as a secure gate.

“Another key feature is that it can be used on a wide range of floor surfaces because it has stabilisers that are completely adjustable to overcome slopes, uneven surfaces and even steps.

We originally bought one and trialled it at York’s Castle Museum and it immediately proved popular so we invested in two more for the Yorkshire Museum and York Art Gallery. Because of the flexibility of the product and its overall safety benefits we’re now looking at investing in further units at some of our other most challenging sites.

Finally Des says: “This isn’t the first everyday problem that we’ve had to use specialist equipment to solve and it won’t be the last. However, whilst you certainly need lots of patience to do this job, it’s always worth it when you know a job is being done safely and that visitors can continue to enjoy these buildings.”