Volunteer view: October

Hi everyone, it’s volunteer coordinator Ross Horsley here, with another look back at a busy month of events and excitement at the Thackray.

It’s been a Halloween season to remember! As well as getting to see the inside of a kidney for the first time (don’t worry – it was part of our surgical suturing workshops) I also welcomed some brilliant new volunteers in time for the hectic half term holidays, and caught up with our dedicated Workhouse research team.

Sam (on the left, above) joined us recently, following a postgraduate degree at Leeds, and has already proven to be a real star, supporting all four of our sold-out ‘Surgical Suturing for Families’ sessions. There’s always plenty to do at events like these – from showing visitors how to hold a scalpel safely, to making sure they all have a banana to practise their stitching on – and Sam stayed on top of every task.

On the right is Holly, who, when not volunteering with our Collections team, works for the NHS. Her long-term passion, however, lies in museums. Building on an MA in Cultural Heritage Management, she worked in public-facing museum roles in Kirklees for five years, but hopes her experience here will help towards finding a job in heritage collections. I was certainly impressed with her people skills when she dropped in to lend a hand at our workshops.

Our Learning Manager, Fiona, writes: “A huge thank-you and well done to everyone this half term week! It’s been great to see the museum so well attended by families [with] lots of positive feedback and happy visits.”

Another new addition to the volunteer team goes by the unusual moniker of Sawdust. Named by Bridey from the museum café, Sawdust is a robotic therapy cat who provides realistic reactions when stroked in different places. With a range of meows and motions, robots like Sawdust can be cared for by people with dementia to promote independence, or kept as companions by anyone experiencing conditions like PTSD or social isolation.

Volunteers have been bringing Sawdust out for regular interactions with visitors. While these started as a companion activity to our ‘Can Robots Care?’ exhibition, they’ve sparked such interesting conversations about the future of healthcare that we’ll likely always have a place for robots on our galleries. Look out for Sawdust next time you’re in the museum and see if your tickling technique will be rewarded by a plethora of purrs!

Earlier in the month, volunteer Anna and I gave a tour to a group called Out & About in Leeds, made up of refugees and asylum-seekers from Afghanistan and Nigeria. Here she is (on the left) with Daneka, of local wellbeing organisation Touchstone, who organise social activities to help displaced people find a sense of community in the city.

Anna was a brilliant co-host, giving our guests a warm welcome and treating them with sensitivity. Having relatives of her own in Ukraine, and currently supporting refugees at home, her compassion and friendliness helped us all enjoy a lovely afternoon.

Thanks to all the other volunteers who’ve shared their time and enthusiasm this month. I’ll be back soon with a look at our new Sparks! Story & Rhyme Times, and a report back on the activities of our small – but seriously talented – group of sewing volunteers, who’ve been creating a sensory carpet for use in the sessions.