The museum simply could not function without its volunteers. There are eighty of us, a platoon who work behind the scenes as well as ‘front of house’. Our duties range from greeting visitors, running the shop, supporting staff on exhibitions, collections management, digitisation of objects, running workshops, cleaning, costume management… and fixing things. For this final blog in the series (more of a collective reflective journal than a commentary) I asked the volunteers to share their reflections on three questions:
- What have you missed (about the museum) the most in lockdown?
- What are you looking forward to when the museum re-opens?
- If applicable, did lockdown make you think differently about the museum?
This is what the volunteers shared.
What we missed the most
Everybody said it was the people. Of course it was. A museum is simply a collection of objects in a building without people. By people, we meant other volunteers, the visitors and the staff. Mark, who works on the digitisation of our objects and also can be found at the front desk, talked about the value of ‘face to face’. I think we’re all weary of online or phone calls. Mike, who also works on the front desk said that he missed ‘attending each Monday,’ with that loss of routine. He went on to say that he’s ‘looking forward to a new normality, a new routine.’ It will feel different to us, because of the social distancing measures that Annette MacTavish (our director) and the staff have put in place. Julia, the volunteer coordinator, as well as missing the volunteers, also said that she’d ‘missed wandering through the museum, it has such a lovely calm atmosphere and there is some reassurance in seeing the “old friends” in the collection – and that unique smell; a mixture of damp and dust with a hint of turpentine.’ In this vein, Sue, a whizz in our collections management ‘missed being involved with our artifacts, and delving into them to explore and find out more about the people involved.’
What we’re looking forward to
It makes sense, given what we’ve missed that we are supremely looking forward to seeing people again. Julia says that she’s looking forward to ‘talking to our visitors, those who have made an effort to come and book,’ but watch out for Mark, as he’s looking forward to selling things in the shop, but in good faith, as the revenue stream is a vital part of our income given it’s free to enter. Like Mike, Jude is looking forward to recapturing, ‘a sense of normality as it was, because the future is so uncertain.’
We were sad not to run to its close the last exhibition ‘Springtime in Cornwall’, curated by Demi our apprentice. When we open the first exhibition will be ‘St Michael’s Church: Love, Life and Loss’, led by Rachel, our curatorial intern. Rick and Viv are often behind the scenes in bringing these plans to life, so they are looking forward to hearing comments from our visitors on the exhibitions that the museum teams work hard to produce.
What reflections did we have?
Perhaps these are the most intriguing and come about because of the adaptations that lockdown forced on the museum. Mark was able to continue with the digitisation of records from home, something that had never really occurred to him. Perhaps it becomes something that other, as yet unknown volunteers, can also do.
Ever practical, Rick and Viv have enjoyed getting right into some of the collection bays and spread everything out over a few days. It gave a chance to ‘stand back and look’ without the pressure of having to do something in a single volunteer shift.
Karen, another volunteer who is key to the collections management, enjoyed seeing the videos and explorations of objects. She wondered whether volunteers could get involved with that, unleashing some of the stories locked in the objects – papers, costumes and photos. Not all of the volunteers want to be in front of a camera, so her suggestion was that it was a collaboration with those who are. Linked to this, Julia said that in seeing the updates, ‘It made me more proud of the unique role the museum has to preserve everyday items which each tell their own story, and more aware of our responsibility to keep them safe for future generations to enjoy – and it would be good to continue using modern technology for this.’
Jude thought about how important the museum is as a community within Helston, given that the high street is losing many retail spaces. She also thought that the volunteers might have an exhibition of the things that we did and made in lockdown. We are, after all, part of Cornish Life that the museum celebrates.
As for me, the whole experience of doing this blog has given me pause to think each week. I’m looking forward to getting back into the building, among the objects and people and hearing the museum come to life again.
That’s all on this sequence unless there’s another lockdown (!), so as they say in Cornwall, ‘cheers and gone.’
Citizen Curator Volunteer.