The UK's museums contribute a huge amount to the country, boosting the economy by attracting tourists and improving the wellbeing of all who visit them. These cultural centres welcome millions of people through their doors every year, making them some of the most frequently used facilities around. This means that cleaning services need to be frequent, effective, safe and discreet - with the added specialist know-how required to work in environments containing valuable and delicate works of art.
When Tate first opened its doors to the public in 1897 it had just one site, displaying a small collection of British artworks. It now has four major sites, and the national collection of British art from 1500 to the present day, plus international, modern and contemporary art, which includes 70,000 artworks.
KGB Cleaning and Support Services has been Tate's housekeeping contractor for 12 years, providing a full cleaning service for all front of house spaces, public toilets, offices and storage facilities at Tate Britain, Tate Modern and Tate Liverpool. The company also provides attendants for the public cloakrooms, aspects of Tate's porterage requirements and waste management. In addition, KGB provides window cleaning and specialist high level cleaning, liaising regularly with gallery curators about how they wish the cleaning regime to be undertaken in and around new exhibits or one-off exhibitions. This was particularly important at last year's retrospective of Damien Hirst's work, held at Tate Modern, with its diamond encrusted skull and sharks in formaldehyde.
Security, sensitivity and high standards
The works of art within Tate's collection are extremely valuable, not only in monetary terms, but also in relation to their place within the history of art and the contribution they make to our cultural heritage. It's therefore essential that operatives have a heightened awareness of the sensitivity of their surroundings, and that they are impeccably trustworthy.
All KGB employees working at Tate sites are subject to a strict vetting process, as they have access to hugely valuable works of art and may come into contact with members of the public, including young children and vulnerable adults, as they carry out their duties. All operatives must have clearance via a DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service) check - the new body that has replaced the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) and the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA) - and previous experience working in a similar environment is desirable when recruiting new employees.
With the high volume of visitors, numerous educational/learning areas and many public toilets throughout each site, cleaning regimes need to reach extremely high standards, and be carried out frequently. For example, toilets in the public areas need to be cleaned and topped up with consumable products on an hourly basis, and even more frequently at peak times. Special care is also taken when cleaning the educational and cafeteria areas, as small children tend to bring with them, and leave behind, the remnants of sweets and chewing gum.
Dennis Ahern, head of safety, security and services for Tate, works closely with KGB to ensure the cleaning and maintenance services provided are tailored to fit the museum environment. He said: “KGB has been working in partnership with Tate for 12 years now, and the company delivers consistently high standards that meet our expectations - proven by the length of our association, and the fact that they have successfully retendered twice during that time.”
According to Tony O'Shea, operations director for KGB, a strong understanding of the museum sector's needs, and the ability to adapt, are key to delivering the levels of service required. “The flexibility to redeploy our staff in response to changing visitor numbers or new installations is crucial when working in busy museum environments,” he said. “For example, when the weather is poor, more cloakroom staff are needed to cope with coats, bags and umbrellas, but when the weather is good visitors have less baggage and clothing to deposit, and we spend more time in the external areas, as this generates an increased amount of litter to clear up. Our long relationship with Tate is based on KGB's experience of knowing how to adapt when large, well-attended exhibitions are being held. Implementing sustainable cleaning solutions for the Tate is a key objective and we have been working with Tate's carbon manager to identify how KGB may assist with their own targets. We keep a close eye on service delivery and customer satisfaction, holding regular contract management reviews, liaising daily with duty managers, and evaluating feedback from the regular public surveys that Tate undertakes. This means that we can continue to enhance our experience and knowledge to provide an even better service to three of the most high profile, respected and renowned museums in the world.”