We are lucky at Birmingham Museums to have hundreds of volunteers support us each year. By the end of 2014 we will have had the help of over 600 volunteers! As the Volunteer Development Officer I feel incredibly lucky to work with such talented people and as an organisation we are so grateful for the generosity of our volunteer team!
Some volunteers join us for a day, like our fantastic Experts who run our Meet the Expert Days at Thinktank, inspiring the scientists of the future. Others are with us each week running guided tours, documenting our collections, working on conservation projects and much much more. You can read about many of our volunteers’ personal experiences through this blog.
So it was a real pleasure for us to host over 100 of our volunteers on 10th December at our annual Thank You party.
This year the event took place in our newly refurbished Edwardian Tea rooms at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. For us, this event is a chance for us to thank our team for all that they have done over the course of the year, but also a lovely opportunity to bring together volunteers from across all nine of our museums.
We had some lovely speeches of thanks from Ellen McAdam, Director of Birmingham Museums and Simon Cane, Deputy Director, and a fantastic team of 15 members of staff volunteered to make sure our team were well looked after!
This year we had a photo booth (with plenty of fancy dress options) and asked our team to tell us why they volunteer. The results were heart warming and are a true demonstration of the passion and enthusiasm in our volunteer team!
Our goal for this event was to make sure every single one of our volunteers was thanked and understood how much they are valued within the organisation. So this blog post is for the members of the team who were unable to make the party.
You are part of the life and soul of Birmingham Museums and we are so grateful for your time. We hope that you enjoy volunteering with us as much as we enjoy having you.
We also created a Thank You Board with messages from staff across the organisation who could not join us on the night. There are so many people at Birmingham Museums who wanted to thank the volunteer team who have made so much possible for us over the course of 2014.
So, to all our wonderful volunteers – thank you for everything you do for us and we look forward to 2015 with you all.
Volunteer Development Officer
Fly press, drop stamp, jeweller’s wig, Archimedes drill, draw bench; a few months ago these terms would have been completely alien to me but that was until I started volunteering at the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter (MJQ). My name is Beth, I have a degree in medieval history, and every Tuesday can be found at MJQ being a volunteer guide.
As a recent history graduate I knew that if I was to entertain any hope of forging a career in Museums and Heritage I had to be willing to volunteer. With this in mind I began scanning the local Heritage sites and Museums for opportunities. There’s no lack of them I can tell you but I quickly stumbled upon an intriguing advert on the Birmingham Museums and art Gallery website (http://www.bmag.org.uk/support-us/volunteer). The advert was asking for guides to help out at the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter. I must confess before seeing this advert I’d never heard of the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter but having volunteered and worked in a range of places from being a medieval wench at Warwick castle to a custodian at the Great Hall in Winchester whilst I was studying for my degree I knew the importance of leaping at an opportunity when it presents itself (one such leap has also seen me gallivanting around as an authentically dressed Elizabeth I). What I can say is I’m glad I took that leap and I will tell you for why…
Right from my first visit to MJQ I was impressed, partly because it involved the most enjoyable interview I’ve ever had (that’s right, an enjoyable interview! Who knew?). By my second trip I was determined to be impressed and that’s before I’d even set foot in the museum. When I did get my much anticipated tour I was not disappointed.
For those of you reading this who’ve never visited the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter I feel that to call it a museum is a bit of a misnomer, its more like a giant time capsule taking you back to the golden age of jewellery manufacturing in Birmingham. My role as a volunteer is to take our guests around the abandoned works of a former jewellery firm, Smith and Pepper, including demonstrating some of the machines and techniques that would have been used when it was a business. After trading for 82 years they abandoned their premises in 1981, locking the doors and allowing all the old equipment and records to gather dust for the next 9 years at which point it was turned into the museum. The former owners even kindly left behind a jar of marmite just in anyone gets peckish during the tour. Of course I could go on in great detail, but if you want to hear the rest of Smith and Pepper’s intriguing past you’ll have to come and visit us in person for the full tour (for details on how to find MJQ click on the link: http://www.bmag.org.uk/museum-of-the-jewellery-quarter).
I can’t deny that preparing to do my first museum tour was quite a nerve wracking experience. Most people would find memorizing 45 minutes to an hour’s worth of material and regurgitating this on demand a daunting experience and I was no different, although it helped knowing that no one was going to rush me into doing a tour before I was ready. As it happens I was pretty confident by my second week thanks to the constant prompts around the museum that help me to memorize all the stories of the people who used to work in this busy manufacturing business. I was a little more anxious when it came to working with the machinery in the factory but under the careful eye of the museum staff I’m getting there.
One of the joys of working at MJQ is how much I’ve learnt even in relatively short time I’ve been there. I now know a fly press can be used to cut out shapes in metal, for example those cute little charms you might find on a charm bracelet, if you want to impress a pattern into metal you’ll need a drop stamp and for those fine, fiddly holes to thread things through you’ll want an Archimedes drill (no electric drill here, thank you!). But is not just the information for the tours, but also from the many guests to the museum who share memories of working in similar factories or trades when they were younger.
For those reading this and wondering whether volunteering is your kind of thing, my advice to you is give it a go, you never know what exciting things you might find out.
Volunteer Tour Guide at MJQ
If you’re interested in volunteering for Birmingham Museums Trust, then find out more at: http://www.bmag.org.uk/support-us/volunteer
Hello I’m Connie, one of the volunteers at Aston Hall and I have been volunteering as a House Guide since the start season. In this blog I will explain why I chose to volunteer at Aston Hall and I will include some of my favourite stories that I share with visitors.
Aston Hall is one of Birmingham’s most historic buildings and is Grade I listed Jacobean house. Aston Hall has played a large part in not just Birmingham’s individual history as a city but is part of England’s wider history as a country. The Hall was involved in the Civil war after being damaged after an attack by Parliamentary troops in 1643.
I choose to volunteer at Aston Hall for all the reasons mentioned above, but mostly for the experience and a chance to work in a place completely different to anywhere else I have ever worked. I am currently doing a history and politics degree at Lancaster University and Aston Hall is the perfect place to get some experience in history. The Hall is rich with historical significance and it’s great to work in such an amazing place and be surrounded by such amazing artwork, artefacts and architecture. Aston Hall is conveniently located in the heart of city and a great piece of local history. It’s a great way to get some experience in your local area and find out what part your city played in history.
Aston Hall’s famous connections makes it stand out as one of the most significant buildings in the city. The house was owned by James Watt Junior, the son of the important Victorian inventor James Watt. Sir Thomas Holte, 1st Baronet was the original owner of Aston Hall, the Holte family were a wealthy family of some importance in Warwickshire. Thomas Holte was known for his great temper with famous disputes with his son and neighbours, such as he sued his neighbours for accusing him of splitting his cook’s head in two with a cleaver! Aston Hall has also housed Charles I in 1642 and Queen Victoria first came to visit when she was on a tour of the country with her mother, she later visited again in 1858 to open Aston Hall as a public museum.
The house is not only for history lovers but due to its extensive range of paintings is also has its interests for art historians, having minored in art history in my first year at university it was amazing to be surrounded by such works of art. Particularly impressive paintings are ‘King Charles I and his family’ by Remy van Leemput and ‘Lucy Loftus’ by Peter Lely. Lely was a Dutch painter who became the dominant portrait painter to the court in England. There are a few portraits of Charles I such as the one in the world room of Charles on the left, and his wife, Henrietta Maria on the right. When being on post in the Long Gallery, the portrait of Marchioness of Rockingham (d.1761) by Godfrey Kneller has always got a lot of attention. People always ask who the woman is in the painting as it creates a large impression due to its grandeur and size so I’m always ready to answer. Mary, Marchioness of Rockingham being the wife of Charles Watson-Wentworth a British Whig statesman and known for his two terms as Prime Minister of Great Britain. Edmund Burke, the famous philosopher, became his private secretary and would remain a lifelong friend, political ally and advisor until Rockingham’s premature death in 1782. She was very active in the political scene as she contributed to the parliamentary management of the Rockingham whigs and it was her positive influence upon her husband that was her most significant contribution to politics.
Another story I like to tell is prompted by the portrait of Edward Holte, Thomas Holte’s son. Edward, had gained a position in Charles I household. In his service Edward met and married Elizabeth King, Thomas did not give his permission for the marriage but Edward went ahead with the wedding. As a result Edward was entirely cut out from his inheritance. Charles I pleaded with Thomas himself to reinstate Edward as his heir but Thomas refused. Edward died on military service in 1643 having never reconciled with his family. It was rumoured Thomas locked up a daughter because she refused to marry her father’s choice of husband, the rumour suggests she starved to death.
Aston Hall’s significance is further emphasised by its architecture as it is one of the last great Jacobean houses to be built in Britain and its location in Britain’s second biggest city. Much of the architecture is original 17th-century plasterwork that has been maintained and the house remains relatively unchanged.
Aston Hall also manages a wide range of events across the year including ‘Make and Take Craft’ which are craft days every Wednesday in the holidays for children. There’s also historic days organised to explore the English Civil War with a living history re-enactment. Birmingham Tours Museum Heritage Bus also takes visitors around other historic sites in the area such as Soho House and Blakesley Hall. The events are a great way to get children more involved and interested in history, which I think is extremely important and a great active day out away from the classroom which is always needed! Aston Hall takes a lot of visits throughout the year from nearby school children and they are given a special tour. Volunteers are encouraged to get involved and events are organised to keep volunteers up to date with information, also there are fun ideas to get us more involved such as picnic days and tour guide training.
The engagement with the customers is always a great chance to get to hear other people’s views of the Hall. Many visitors have returned to the house having been years ago when they as a child at school. Other visitors have come again for a second or a third time to bring family and friends. Many are amazed by the long gallery, my favourite room and one of the most spectacular rooms in the house. Hands down an extremely different place to work and hope to work in other places like Aston Hall in the future.
Volunteer at Aston Hall
If you’re interested in volunteering for Birmingham Museums Trust then find out more at: www.bmag.org.uk/support-us/volunteer
To celebrate National Volunteers Week we asked our staff to nominate volunteers who they felt had gone above and beyond in their roles. The difficulty for everyone was selecting just one person to nominate as we have so many wonderful people giving their time as volunteers!
So here to announce the winner is Deputy Director Simon Cane….
I’m Zoe and I volunteer with the curatorial team at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. I’ve recently graduated with my MA in museum studies, and I’m using my annual leave to volunteer once a week at BMAG (I otherwise work in an academic library). The museums sector is so incredibly competitive so I’m focussed on doing all I can to ensure I become a curator one day… and that means volunteering!
Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (BMAG) was the obvious choice when I was looking to volunteer. I’d previously worked as a Visitor Services Assistant at Aston Hall and as an intern with the exhibitions team at BMAG, and had loved every second of it. The curatorial team in particular are extremely experienced and incredibly supportive. They have so much knowledge and expertise between them, and they always have time to share what they know. It’s a pleasure to work with them.
Since starting my volunteering in March, I’ve been researching and blogging about the museums’ Ancient Near East collection. I was lucky enough to assist with the Near East Gallery install whilst interning in the summer last year, so it’s been good fun to learn more about the objects I got to handle back then, and to share what I’ve learned by blogging. Back in March Adam (Curator of World Cultures) and I installed a selection of ornately carved Nimrud ivories in the gallery. They are some of the oldest objects in BMAG’s collection and are even more amazing because they may have been cleaned by famous murder mystery writer Agatha Christie. She was in Iraq helping out at the archaeological dig that uncovered them back in the 60’s.
I’ve also been helping to digitise images of the ethnography collection to add to the museum’s collections management system, so that we have a visual record of what’s what in the collection. Images of cannibal forks and Fijian ancestor figures – complete with detachable grass skirts – are amongst my highlights so far. Helping out with this project has been a really valuable experience as it’s given me the opportunity to learn how to use professional scanning equipment and software in a museum context, and to get to grips with collections management systems. So many curatorial and collections based jobs are asking for these skills, so I’m really pleased I’ve had the opportunity to do this.
I hope to continue to volunteer with the curatorial team into the summer, until I run out of annual leave. The team at BMAG try to tailor my volunteering projects to suit me, so that I can build up my skills and gain experience in things I want to do, which is brilliant. Hopefully they’ll have some exciting projects lined up for me over the summer!
Curatorial Team Volunteer
For more information about volunteering or to be added to our volunteer list please visit: bmag.org.uk/support-us/volunteer
I have a true penchant for our magnificent city of Birmingham. Even after travelling the world and experiencing the splendour of the South Pacific, Europe and Caribbean I still found my true heart was back in Brum.
Birmingham has so many wonders to be experienced, from our diverse cultural quarters, our proud industrial legacy, our deeply engraved historical heritage, our numerous parklands, our copious canal system, our vibrant social and culinary scene and of course our beloved and cherished museums and art galleries.
I am not the only one with a love for Birmingham though. There are a dedicated group of individuals who unite in their passion for Birmingham and they give up their precious time and resources to volunteer for the various sites of Birmingham Museums Trust (BMT). This band of devoted and fervent volunteers create memorable moments for visitors at BMT sites and they instil a new pride in the city of Birmingham. These volunteers do this selflessly out of enthusiasm and desire for the legacy and future of Birmingham; they ask for nothing in return but the satisfaction that they are making a true difference to the city’s prospects, success and its heritage.
So when Alex Nicholson-Evans (Volunteer Development Officer at Birmingham Museums) decided to formally recognise all the volunteers of Birmingham Museums during National Volunteer Week and celebrate their contribution, it was a real honour.
We were truly treated and indulged to a full tour of Aston Hall, even areas not visited by the public, by Barbara Nomikos (Property Supervisor at Aston Hall) whose knowledge and enthusiasm for the house and resident families was sincerely inspirational, compelling and exhaustive. The indulgence continued with a magnificent picnic washed down with lashings of Pimms! Alas, the event had been planned as a picnic on the lawn but the UK weather had other plans and an onslaught of good old British rain, saw us camped out above the newly renovated stable block. However the weather could not dampen out valiant volunteering spirits and a fabulous time was had by all. To round of such a spectacular day we were subjected to, sorry enjoyed, an amusing and entertaining quiz! All in all a wonderfully memorable and very appreciated day.
So I would like to thank Alex, Rachel, Barbara, the team at Aston Hall and all the volunteers who attended in making us all feel so valued and appreciated. Although we volunteer out of love and passion, this kind of recognition is greatly respected and continues to fire our hunger and desire for volunteering.
Thanks to the dedication of people like Alex who make us all feel special and appreciated, we will keep on standing side by side and continue our volunteer work, ensuring we uphold and endorse Birmingham as the truly magnificent city it is.
For more information about volunteering or to be added to our volunteer list visit: bmag.org.uk/support-us/volunteer
Art is something I have always had an immense amount of interest in; from an early age I was reading about artists, visiting galleries and getting involved in every art class I could find. Pursuing courses in art at school, I became more interested in looking at other’s art works rather than creating my own, and thinking about the historical, biographical and social contexts of works. When the time came for me to leave school I stumbled on information about courses of History of Art. This seemed perfect for me, so I decided to take the plunge. Once I had finished my course I moved back to Birmingham and for the first time was at a loss for what to do with my future. I greatly missed the challenge of academic study, and spent a while thinking about my future and what I wanted to achieve. I knew it would have to be something art based, but I wasn’t sure what job it was that I wanted exactly, or even how to embark upon a career in which I had no practical experience. After many unsuccessful job applications, I decided the best course of action was to go back to what I knew I enjoyed the most: visiting art galleries. It was then I saw the vacancy for volunteer positions at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, and I sent an application without any real hope that I would be accepted due to my lack of experience. However, I couldn’t believe my luck when I was told I had been successful!
Volunteering has become an essential part of my weekly routine. Being at the gallery twice a week has renewed my interest and passion in art; spending time talking to the public and answering their questions about pieces in the collection pushes me to constantly expand my knowledge. Many questions and opinions that arise in general conversation are things I had not considered myself, and I love being educated by others who are as enthusiastic about the works in the gallery as I am. Volunteering in a gallery like the Staffordshire Hoard often draws in people with specialist knowledge, and it is so inspiring and reassuring to see the passion and sense of pride that local people feel for their art gallery. I really try to pass on any small amount of knowledge I may have so that others might find the same appreciation for the art as I do.
Recently I spent an afternoon at an object handling session with Ancient Egyptian objects. It was a fantastic experience for me to engage with families, and in particular children, in one of my areas of great interest. Using the objects to interact with the public was a really rewarding experience for me, as it helped to draw people in for conversations. The opportunity for us to touch actual artefacts was a real treat, and it really helped to create a strong connection and understanding of the art, especially for children. It was so gratifying to see people really understanding the objects on show, not only on a visual level but by physically exploring the objects to reaffirm their understanding of them, for example, being able to examine a kohl pot with remnants of makeup in it expanded understanding of the object on a deeper level than being told of its use by display information.
Every day volunteering at the gallery is enjoyable, spending time around such beautiful and amazing works of art has led me to develop a deep appreciation for all the works, and it is a real pleasure to speak to all the staff and hear their own experiences of working in the gallery. The building itself is a work of art, and a pleasure to spend time in. I hope to volunteer until a more permanent career path becomes more obvious to me; until then I will continue to enthusiastically drag my friends and family, such as my sister pictured below, to the gallery to experience what amazing things Birmingham is lucky enough to be home to.
For more information about volunteering at Birmingham Museums visit: bmag.org.uk/support-us/volunteer
By Kendall Russell,
Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery Volunteer
“Where’s the big stuff? I want to see the really big stuff”. It was a familiar request; visitors to gallery sixteen at Birmingham Museum are often a little thrown when they peer in to the glass cases for the first time and wonder what on earth they’re looking at. Small pieces of shiny metal, many of them studded with red gemstones – what are they? Who do they belong to? Where are they from? Why has such a fuss been made in the media about this find?
Photo: Two Staffordshire Hoard gallery volunteers at the 2012 Volunteer Party
So what do volunteers in the Hoard gallery do? Well, there’s a bit of housekeeping for starters. First thing in the morning we set the gallery up: we turn on the lights, set up the ipads and, last of all, fire up the short documentary which is a great introduction to the Hoard. Visitors often ask if we know the script of that film off by heart: we do! There is a small amount of paperwork, a gallery check to make sure all is working, clean and tidy for visitors and then…we wait.
There is never much of a wait before the first visitors arrive. The Staffordshire Hoard remains very popular, and totting up the numbers is another volunteer responsibility. We regularly log over 300 visitors, even on a rainy weekday. There is rarely a dull moment in the Hoard, and our visitors are always so interesting, as well as interested. For me this is the best part of volunteering: the opportunity to talk with such a diverse range of people. I started volunteering in the Hoard in January 2012, and since then I’ve learned as much from the public as I have from books and documentaries. I’ve been privileged to speak with jewellers who understand the intricate complexity of the filigree work; with metal workers who have explained how the swords would have been made and even an expert in marine life who enlightened me on sea horses off the south coast of England.
But you don’t have to be an expert at anything to appreciate the Hoard (I’m certainly not!) or to engage our full attention. There is still so much mystery surrounding the find and, as I often tell visitors, everyone’s interpretation is as good as anyone else’s when it comes to the Staffordshire Hoard. One of the really nice things about working in the gallery is hearing the ideas about how the gold came to be stashed there, and why. It seems unlikely that we’ll never know, but a very happy ten minutes can be passed debating it.
The day passes very quickly as a conglomeration of chatty, enthusiastic school trips, overseas tourists and mooching couples pass through the gallery. And there are quiet times too, during which we go around with a cloth and wipe the fingerprints off the cases. At five o’clock a call comes over the radio advising that it’s time to start closing down the interactive exhibits, and Terry Herbert utters his final ‘why me?’ of the day. The lights are turned down, the doors closed and it’s time to head home.
If you are planning a visit to the Staffordshire Hoard – and why wouldn’t you? It’s fab and free! – please take advantage of the volunteer interpreters in the gallery. We can’t promise to answer all of your questions, but we’ll have an interesting time together trying!
Staffordshire Hoard Volunteer
For more information about the Staffordshire Hoard please visit: staffordshirehoard.org.uk
Hi, I’m Lucy Blakeman and I’m the Documentation Manager at BMAG. I started my museum career at the Barber Institute of Fine Art, working with the Education Manager. To gain more Curatorial experience I also volunteered at BMAG in the Art Department with Tessa Sidey and then in the History Department with Phil Watson. Having gained experience in several different areas of museum work, it became apparent that I was leaning more towards documentation and after 2.5 years volunteering I took my first paid role as a Documentation Officer at BMAG and haven’t looked back!
My experience as a volunteer has helped me see the value in volunteering from a personal perspective as well as from an institutional perspective. I now take on volunteers of my own as I feel it’s essential to my work in at BMAG, as well as providing keen up-and-coming-museum-professionals with the experience they need to get museum jobs.
I have 2 long-term volunteers that work on Documentation projects with me – Misaho, who has also written a blog about volunteering today, is one of them and has been coming to BMAG for 3 years now. Her work is of an exceptional standard and she is dedicated and professional, which is exactly what we need. Without Misaho I wouldn’t be on target with our collections audit, we wouldn’t have solved many of the documentation anomalies that have occurred over the years, and her expertise in Ancient History is a real bonus in solving these.
I also work with four of the Friends as part of their 80th Birthday celebrations this year. They have been inputting funding data and accurate credit line info for all the objects that the Friends have helped us acquire over the last 80 years. Working closely with the Friends has been a lovely experience – several of them have been a part of BMAG for much longer than me, and although I may have taught them a few new skills, they have also taught me a great deal.
Documentation is one of the most important aspects of collections work and without the help and hard work of volunteers we wouldn’t have the level of documentation that we currently do. I can’t thank volunteers enough for the work that they do.
Thank you very much all you fabulous volunteers!