Three Cheers for Volunteers!

on Thursday, 14 January 2016. Posted in Museums

Just before Christmas I was invited to an afternoon at Chippenham Museum to celebrate the contribution volunteers have made to the Museum over the past year.

Volunteers from Chippenham Museum give a warm welcome to Yelde Hall

I listened with great interest and a growing sense of wonder as Curator Melissa Barnett thanked all those who had given their time for free, speaking about all the work that had gone on throughout the year and the projects and events volunteers had been involved in.

A well-earned break for volunteers at Chippenham Museum

Working with a small team of paid staff, the efforts of the volunteers are vital in creating an active and bustling community based Museum. They have a group of around 75 people who give their time to help in all areas, both front of house and behind the scenes. Amongst other things volunteers welcome visitors on the reception desk, carry out educational activities and workshops, answer enquiries, research and document the collections and work on special events. They also provide an important link with the local community, ensuring that the Museum provides what people in the town want.

As I reflected on the afternoon, it struck me that Chippenham isn’t the only museum in Wiltshire with a vibrant and hard-working group of volunteers. Having recently started working as Museum Officer for Wiltshire Council, I’ve been busy visiting many of the museums across the county and meeting the people who run them. Time and time again I’ve been mightily impressed by the levels of dedication, enthusiasm and expertise shown by the volunteers I’ve come across, including those here at Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre.

Director of Wiltshire Museum, David Dawson, celebrates winning the Marsh Award at the British Museum with volunteers Sarah Harris, Stuart Raymond, Bill Perry and Sue Roderick

In Devizes, Wiltshire Museum’s Archive and Library Volunteer Team won the Marsh Award for the South West Region in recognition of their outstanding contribution to engaging museum audiences. With over 120 volunteers helping in all areas of the Museum’s work, Director David Dawson commented that ‘we could not run our nationally important museum without their help and support’.

I’ve also been to a number of museums that are run entirely by volunteers – Market Lavington MuseumPewsey Heritage Centre and Athelstan Museum in Malmesbury to name a few. Each has a team of volunteers who manages the Museum to national standards, working tirelessly to preserve and document the history of their local area that might otherwise be lost. A more committed, passionate and knowledgeable bunch of people you couldn’t hope to meet.

Spring-cleaning patrol at Market Lavington museum
None of these museums would be as successful or achieve as much as they do without the enormous amount of skill and hard work provided by their volunteers. And it’s not just the museums that benefit. Becoming a volunteer is a great way to indulge your interests, meet more people and develop new skills, with numerous studies showing that volunteering can make you happier and help maintain your physical and mental wellbeing. What’s not to like? Why not contact your local museum today and see if there’s anything you can do to help!
Heather Perry, Museum Officer



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