Volunteer Story: Steve

Volunteer Steve on a Talking Table at Weston Park Museum

"I wanted to do something completely different"

I have been a volunteer with Museums Sheffield for a little over a year. After I retired I attended some of the great free talks that are organised by Museums Sheffield and then I felt it was time to give something back. My background was technical, and I wanted to do something completely different. I chose to do the Talking Tables (object handling) training, and found it fascinating. In fact, I could not wait for my first session.

Talking Tables are trolleys with drawers containing a variety of reproductions of museum artefacts and original items which are made available for members of the public to handle. The Talking Tables encourage visitors to think about the displays, explore their own understanding, and provide an experience to enhance their visit to the museum.

I had never worked with children before and I had no background in natural history. However, I found that the training and information provided by the curators enabled me to engage with people of all different ages and backgrounds and I developed my own method of encouraging conversations. Pre-school children love stroking the animals, school children ask intelligent and searching questions, parents interact with their children, and older folk talk about the squirrels or foxes that they see in their gardens.

For variety, I sometimes display a reproduction Anglo-Saxon sword, an English Civil War cannon ball and Neolithic stone tools. The sword is very popular – its weight surprises people and leads to discussions about the stature, nutrition and armour of Anglo-Saxon warriors. The cannon ball, found near Sheffield Castle, is also deceptively heavy. This opens the opportunity to talk about casting as well as warfare. With many older visitors having been involved in the steel industry or metallurgy, I have had interesting conversations and learned a great deal.

I really enjoy my volunteering sessions, and I like to think that I contribute to visitors’ understanding and broaden their horizons. Try it – I’m sure that you will like it too!

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