OPAL

Logo_resized-OPALSome of you may have been reading my blog posts and following my progress in my project to apply for OPAL funding and finally procure the equipment. In the early stages I didn’t say much because I didn’t want to ‘count my chickens’ and I didn’t go into any great detail about suppliers for the same reason – preferring to get the job done before making any bold claims. So, this page is going to go into a bit more detail and aims to help anyone who wants to do a similar OPAL claim.

To start with, you have to have to be a valid, recognised wildlife society or recording scheme and have a worthy project that needs some funding. I needed some entomological cabinets but you might need a microscope or something else – check OPAL’s funding criteria on their  website. If you have at least 3 committee members and a dedicated bank account then you can make direct applications to OPAL for funding. However, if you are smaller (e.g. a single amateur entomologist running a recording scheme) then you can still apply via a larger organization that does qualify – each qualifying organization can support 3 non-qualifying applicants.

The 20 NHM drawersIf you are in any doubt at all then I would suggest contacting Lucy Carter at OPAL and running your ideas past her. I did and was pleasantly surprised when she confirmed that I was the kind of person they wanted to support and the equipment I wanted to buy was exactly what OPAL was set up to do.

I chose the Amateur Entomologist’s Society (AES) as my supporting society, because I have been a member since I was a kid, but you can choose the most appropriate for your project. I got in touch with Dafydd, the AES Secretary and started by asking if he had heard of OPAL and whether the AES might like to support my application. As it happened he had and they were happy to support my application – as long as I filled in all my forms and didn’t require them to do any major work.

This is where the real work started because now I had to put together a convincing application describing my project, showing why I needed it, and giving an approximate costing. I had done some cursory research on how much entomological cabinets, drawers and unit-trays costed but now I had to find some competative quotes and haggle to get the best possible price.

I started by speaking to friends at the Natural History Museum (NHM) in London and the Hope Entomological Collection in Oxford (OUM). It quickly became obvious that there is no such thing as a ‘standard’ in entomology but probably the commonest configuration (size of drawers and unit-trays) was the one adopted by the NHM and Cardiff museum. The NHM were refitting for their move into the Darwin Centre so they were happy to sell me some secondhand hardwood drawers (at 30-pounds each) and I could buy unit-trays to fit from them too (at about 10-pounds per drawer). The only sticking point was the cabinet – they had plenty of secondhand wooden ones but I had decided that I wanted an air-tight steel cabinet so that pests from my rather messy, carpetted house wouldn’t get in.

After some Googling and asking NHM staff I found Ampfab Ltd. (tel: 0161 620 7250) who were extremely helpful. They will design a steel cabinet to your specifications and even spray it whichever colour you prefer – so you don’t have to have ‘museum battleship grey’! The price came in at just over £1100 (inc. VAT & delivery) for 2 cabinets & a plinth, which was quite cheap. I would heartily recommend Ampfab for anyone thinking of commissioning cabinets. I based my application on Ampfab and worked out that I would have to chip-in a bit of my own money but I had some savings so it was possible.

The forms were very simple to fill in and my application was for 2000 pounds of OPAL money to be matched by 600 pounds of my own. Dafydd at the AES sent off my application by the 31st July deadline and on the 10th September I received the email from Lucy to say that I had been successful! You can imagine the smile on my face that day! 😉

So, now I started to collect the necessary quotations from 3 different sources. The unit trays and drawers were going to come from the NHM and nobody else sold those products so I couldn’t get competative quotes – Lucy said that wouldn’t matter as long as there is a good reason for not having other quotes. The cabinets were a bit easier (I had Preservation Equipment Ltd. and Ampfab Ltd.) but I asked again at the NHM to see if they had a third. Not only did they have a third (C&D Sheetmetal Ltd. – tel: 020-8311-2056) but Howard strongly suggested that I should use C&D because they were equiping the new Darwin Centre so I might be able to piggyback the NHM’s order and obtain a massive discount in the process. After a quick phone call to David Barratt at C&D I could see that I would be getting about 40% discount by going with them – an offer I couldn’t really turn down.

I placed my order with C&D for 2x 18-drawer cabinets and a plinth to be delivered to the NHM (another condition of getting the discount) and in the meantime went up to the NHM to buy 20 drawers – to make a start. The drawers were great quality and will definitely do the job and Max even let me have some secondhand unit-trays free of charge. As it happened though the secondhand trays were a bit of a tight fit because the foam liners were too thick so I decided to spend the money I had saved on cabinets on getting a complete set of new unit-trays, which were guaranteed to fit.

The cabinets took about 3 weeks to be delivered and I collected those a few days ago – they are perfect – just what I wanted. They have been installed in my office now and fitted with the first batch of drawers so look superb.I have even started to plan how I will arrange the collection now that I have so much free space. I am just waiting for the OPAL money to be delivered to the AES and then it will be forwarded to me and I can pay C&D and buy the remainder of the project (drawers and unit trays).

Two photos of the same cabinets but in different configurations:

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I’d like to thank:

  • The whole OPAL team for their funding and Lucy Carter in particular for fielding all my silly questions and remaining cheerful at all times!
  • Dafydd Lewis at the AES for supporting my claim
  • Max Barclay & Howard Mendel (NHM) and Darren Mann & James Hogan (OUM) for their help and guidance through the minefield that is ‘entomological cabinet technology’!
  • My friends John & Becca, who helped collect the cabinets and install them in my office
  • and lastly but by no means leastly, all my other friends and colleagues who have encouraged me along the way. 😀

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