50 Year Partnership Continues to Thrive at The National Gallery

DOC Cleaning’s partnership with the National Gallery celebrates its half century this year and continues to raise the standards of partnership working with its very first client.

Compliments for the PFM Partnership Awards 2021 were continuing to be received as this article was posted online, with exemplary standards of the winning partnerships playing a major role in this.

Perhaps one of the most relevant examples of these can be seen in the relationship between DOC Cleaning and the National Gallery, which has continued for the past 50 years.

The gallery was the company’s first client and the company states that the contract has become part of its DNA.

Its team of 38 staff are on site from 6am until 10pm every day, providing essential cleaning services to ensure that the spectacular setting continues to offer a top-class venue for the viewing of its priceless collections of art.

PFM recently met with the National Gallery head of operations Carole Keltie and DOC Cleaning chief executive officer Lee Andrews on site to hear about the high levels of mutual respect and appreciation that continue to be enjoyed. “I came to the National Gallery with my father (company founder Bob Andrews) when I was 11, so you could say I’ve grown up with this contract,” says Mr Andrews.

He further explains that several other family members have also worked on site over the last 50 years, and that numerous other members of staff have worked on the contract for many decades. DOC Cleaning appointed site manager Kevan Stewart in 1991, for example, and he and his colleagues’ long service provides testament to the support they receive for their efforts both from their employer and The National Gallery.

When examining the credentials of the two partners, they seem at first to be completely different in their make up. The National Gallery is obviously a world-renowned institution and DOC Cleaning is a highly respected family-owned cleaning business, but both share a number of fundamental attributes that have continued to make their long-running relationship highly successful.

Ms Keltie states that both share “a passion for the gallery” and its considerable efforts in all areas to welcome and assist visitors to gain as much enjoyment and value as possible from their visits. Mr Andrews further explains that despite the many changes within the relationship over the decades, both sides have retained their sense of commitment.

The cleaning team are part of the front of house team and “the face of the gallery,” Ms Keltie continues and further explains that “everyone understands what it’s like” to work there, further emphasising the many added benefits gained from the two partners’ close working relationship. “We’ve developed a specific induction and training programme for new members of staff starting work at the gallery,” Mr Andrews explains.

“It’s very hard to be customer facing if you’re cleaning, because it’s a manual job, but we do realise we’re often the first point of contact with visitors and we want to protect the brand and enhance it wherever we can.”

With conditions relating to the Covid-19 pandemic continuing to ease at the time of the PFM visit, Ms Keltie explains how the gallery’s strong relationships with DOC Cleaning and other suppliers played an important part in helping to make the many changes required.

Although the facility closed to the public, a core cleaning team continued to work to keep all areas clean and safe to use, while supporting the various works that were completed throughout the times of closure. The main focus of the projects begun during lockdown was on the creation of the new Foundation Hub within the gallery, providing office space and meeting rooms for staff.

This will be followed by another major refurbishment of the facility, coinciding with its 200th anniversary, that will include the redesign of the Sainsbury Wing and creation of a new entrance, assisted by numerous supportive actions from the cleaning team.

The National Gallery includes more than 46,000 sq. m of floor space and houses works of art originating from the 13th century to the early 20th century. In addition to the works of art, the listed building includes a wide number of materials that need to be cleaned with considerable care to avoid any damage or adverse impact.

In addition to cleaning, the company’s services include porterage, post and providing set up and break down assistance for special events, which could also be seen to be increasing in number following the easing of pandemic restrictions. “The role of DOC Cleaning and our partnership is absolutely fundamental to the continued success of the gallery,” says Ms Keltie.

Mr Andrews says, “The win was celebrated by everyone, of course, and was also included in the National Gallery in-house newsletter, which shows how pleased everyone was.” The partnership continues to evolve, and its more recent developments have included assisting the National Gallery to meet its sustainability aims.

“We’re constantly looking at how we can improve the visitor experience and make it more inclusive and attractive to more people, and that’s another very important part of how we work with DOC,” says Ms Keltie.

Among the various innovations emerging from the partnership has been the inclusion of high-level cleaning to the company’s services. This followed its support in dealing with a moth infestation in 2005 that had placed the gallery’s wall coverings at risk, with further implications for the works of art.

The company introduced long-handled Space Vac vacuuming and began cleaning from floor to ceiling. DOC Cleaning has added further to this by removing moss and debris from guttering around the 40 roof lanterns that bring light into the facility. Yet more innovation resulted from its purchase of Tomcat scrubbing machines which have proved highly effective in floor cleaning at the gallery.

They use no chemicals and have a foam-based recovery bar to remove all water to maintain the wide variety of flooring surfaces in the most effective manner.

The 50-year relationship is obviously regarded as highly important for both partners, with Mr Andrews summing this up by stating: “This was the company’s very first contract and it would break my heart if we ever lost it.”

Published in the PFM journal.