Volunteer View: January 2023

Hi everyone, it’s Ross Horsley here with the latest on the museum’s volunteering programme and all the great things our valued volunteers have been getting up to recently.

The last thing you might want to hear about is Christmas again, but I couldn’t miss a final opportunity to thank all the Visitor Experience Volunteers who supported our popular ‘Meet Father Christmas’ events throughout December. Some of them – like Pavan and Sam, pictured below with our staff elf, Josh, in the middle – managed multiple shifts, helping families search for hidden treasures, decorate miniature sleighs, and find their way to the Apothecary to meet the big man himself. It was a true festive treat, enhanced as always by our volunteers’ customary goodwill.

We start this new year with a panel of over 60 volunteers, working across four main strands of activity in the museum: visitor engagement, collections cataloguing, heritage research, and sewing. Around 30 join us onsite each month and, last year, they contributed a total of 2,366 hours, equating to over 45 hours a week! We couldn’t be more grateful, and look forward to another exciting few months ahead of the European Museum of the Year awards, for which we’ve made the shortlist.

Back in November, our sewing volunteers helped prepare for the new Sparks! Story and Rhyme Times by refreshing and repairing parts of the play area and creating some entirely new resources. Bagshur and Anna (below) stitched a sensory carpet for babies to explore during story sessions, plus new mini bedclothes for the children’s ‘hospital’. Both volunteers have been with the museum since its refurbishment and continue to share their considerable skills and experience.

December saw the ‘Digital Label Writing’ project conclude after a busy six months. Overseen by Natascha Allen-Smith, our Collections Access Assistant, four volunteers (Pauline, Di, Cat and Holly) created new labels and photographs for over 125 museum objects. Each member of the group was trained to use the object catalogue, CollectionsIndex+, and researched items as diverse as vaccination equipment and blood transfusion sets. The impact on our Collections Online database is already evident – for an example, compare these before-and-after images of a selection of books on the subject of Cholera.


…and after:

In addition, the group tweaked existing text to correct typos and improve readability generally. I’m sure you’ll agree it was a job well done!

Also in December, a team of amateur reporters visited us from Shine, a bi-monthly magazine sharing real-life stories of older people in Leeds. Here they are in the café, meeting our volunteer, Colin, whom they interviewed and who showed them around:

As well as writing about our exhibits, the group was interested in accessibility for older visitors, our history, and the work of our volunteers. For many readers, the isolating effects of Covid are still being felt, so active older people like Colin can be an inspiration in terms of joining community initiatives and seeking support. We’ll look forward to seeing the article about the museum in their next issue.

Other things to look forward to in 2023 include a new volunteer project assisting our archivist, Robert, in the museum’s archives; and a collaboration between our workhouse research volunteers and the Friends of Beckett Street Cemetery, as we prepare again for this year’s Heritage Open Days.

See you next time!