Volunteers' Voice: 2015 round-up

Volunteer Coordinator Rob Davies looks back at a year of volunteering at MERL and the Special Collections.

Another year, another year of fabulous volunteer projects; 2015 saw a whole host of new volunteer projects and successes. We also benefitted from the new post of Assistant Volunteer Coordinator, Rhiannon Watkinson, who has worked tirelessly with the volunteers. The Our Country Lives Activity Plan has informed the volunteering programme, taking us in new directions with the resources to support new projects.

Phillippa and Polly at Student Volunteering Fayre

With the museum closed for the redevelopment project, we turned the ceaseless energy of the volunteer tour guides towards the Swing Riots and object handling training projects. (Although some did satisfy their tour guide urges by leading tours around our Victorian building during Heritage Open Days.) As a result of this a new project, our object handling volunteers will be ready for the reopening of the museum, leading handling sessions for visitors to the galleries;  Our Swing Riots team are continuing to perform across the county, giving performances at Reading and Wokingham Libraries to name a few.

Deep within the archives and libraries volunteers have been quietly beavering away on projects  for MERL and the Special Collections, such as Mills and Boon, Landscape Institute, Farmers Weekly. A large project that has included many volunteers is the Nancy Astor indexing project and we are finally nearing the end of the project.

Even though the Museum has been closed we’ve continued to host and attend events. Volunteers have been vital to these events. We had a great day at the Big Lunch in the summer on the London Road Campus, the sun was beating down and we were inundated by families all eager to talk to us and have a go at the activities. We couldn’t attend outreach events such as the Berkshire Show, the East Reading Festival or Reading Town Meal, without our volunteers. As well as supporting events, they also lead on some, including the Swing Riots and the recent Our Christmas Traditions event.

Volunteers at RTM

A young volunteer project has been piloted, with the young volunteers now forming a permanent core of the volunteer team. They are aged 14 to 18 and are volunteering on a range of projects from archives to gardening. We had a team of volunteers from Reading College tidying up the MERL garden after the builders left, it was great fun and they harvested buckets and buckets of grapes.

Volunteers have also taken part in the Sew Engaging project which aims to encourage people to think artistically about their relationship with the countryside through tapestry and quilting. Volunteers helped to start the project by preparing packs and making designs; and many have made their own patches. They’ll now be helping us stitch it all together.

Volunteers at Sew Engaging

To say thank you, Rhiannon organised a trip to St Fagan’s in October where we had a private behind the scenes tour and met members of their team. We had a Summer party and a Christmas party, which is always a great opportunity for volunteers across the board to come together. We couldn’t do half of what we do without our wonderful, enthusiastic and dedicated volunteers. I personally think I have the best job in the world because I work with so many different and interesting people. I am looking forward to 2016 with great excitement.

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    The Museum reopened in October 2016, following a major redevelopment, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

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