Volunteer Story: Rachel

Volunteer Rachel completing an online survey with a visitor

“I’ve been volunteering for a year and I love it!”

On family holidays my dad used to drag me round all things cultural and historical - he was obsessed by Iron Age hillforts and anything Roman. I resented it at the time but some of his enthusiasm must have rubbed off on me as I applied to become a volunteer with Museums Sheffield.

Although I have done various bits and bobs of volunteering across the organisation, my two main roles are the Talking Table and Visitor Surveys, both of which involve engaging with visitors.

Young visitors are delighted to have the opportunity to handle whatever I have chosen to put on the Talking Table that day, whether it be a cannon ball or a stuffed fox cub – ‘did I kill it?’ being one of the questions I am frequently asked. They all want to try on a (felt) Anglo Saxon helmet and hold the replica sword. Often a child will run off to find the rest of their family and show off what they have handled, although one little girl was disappointed to discover that the table couldn’t actually speak!

Most visitors that I approach to take part in a survey seem pleased to have been asked. So much so, that I often find myself simply chatting and slowly finding out why they have made a special effort to visit. It might be that someone has come to look at a particular painting or to see whether an exhibit (e.g. the lion at Weston Park Museum) they saw on a school visit is still there. A couple in their nineties told me that they had not visited the museum since they were children and how happy they were to be back and marvel at how it had changed during their lifetimes. One lady told me that she was specifically visiting the Metalwork Collection to see if she could see her parents in any of the photographs of employees in the cutlery trade. She went on to describe the items of cutlery that she had inherited from her parents and, as she got up to leave, commented how lovely it had been to have the opportunity to share her memories.

It is the natural curiosity of the younger visitors and the interesting conversations I have with the older visitors that I find so rewarding. That, and the friendliness of all the staff that I have had the pleasure to meet, make Museums Sheffield a brilliant place to volunteer.


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