Tue, 02 Jun 2020
In this first of a series of articles celebrating the valuable work of volunteers, David Richardson describes his varied roles assisting with the At Home service and West Berkshire Museum.
These are unusual times. Under normal circumstances, more than 300 volunteers assist with the day-to-day running of West Berkshire Culture and Libraries Service, but during the lockdown much of this work has been temporarily suspended, at the same time as Culture and Libraries has expanded its online offer for residents. However, some areas of the service are still keeping in close contact with regular users, such as the library’s At Home service, which normally delivers print and audiobooks to around 100 customers across the district
“WHEN I retired I wanted to find some things to do beyond growing tomatoes in my garden so I went to the annual Volunteering Fair run by the Volunteer Centre to see what opportunities there were to which I could contribute and which would be an enjoyable thing to do.
One of the organisations setting out their stall was the library, who wanted people as volunteers for the At Home service, selecting books and taking them to people at home. This suited me perfectly: I was a user of the library and it was something where I could be my own boss and deliver. I have learnt that it is a very welcome service to those who can’t get to the library themselves and have been doing it now for 17 years, until social isolation brought it all to a halt.
That was just the start. I somehow heard that the museum were looking for volunteers to help with the collections and I thought that would be interesting and keep my brain active so I applied, offering to help with documentation, which I think fits my skills. And ever since I’ve been beavering away in the back office undertaking tasks that need doing.
I’ve been very fortunate in that I’ve been given long-term tasks that I can just get on with, although the staff are always there to support if required. Initially I was tracing and contacting the owners of items which the museum held on long-term loan so that we might return them prior to the museum closing for the redevelopment. This involved some significant detective work because some loans had been with us for decades and the owners had long since moved or passed away. And regrettably the museum’s own records were sometimes wanting. Many items were returned, or converted to outright donations, but some still defy conclusion. I continue dealing with some, but I suspect one of my
successors in years to come will be trying to resolve the remaining few. The successes I recall include
restoring one item to the family of the original lender, who loaned the item in 1935; and following one trail of contacts all the way from West Berkshire, to London, to East Africa, and finally back to London where the family were happy to make the loan a permanent gift.
When we were emptying out the old museum prior to the redevelopment project we found that a large number of objects couldn’t be confidently identified, either because they weren’t labelled or because the box in which they were stored or the documentation was insufficiently clear. It would have been wrong to guess so they were given ‘temporary’ labels and put aside until a later time. That later time is now and I am engaged in pouring through records finding out what I can about these enigmatic items restoring where possible their proper museum identity and provenance.
What I really enjoy about all the tasks I’ve been asked to do is that I have to figure things out from the material to hand – the objects and the records – and this involves using my brain. And I know that what I’m doing is contributing in a small way to the general health of the museum. It’s a symbiotic relationship – the museum gets tasks done that otherwise would languish and I’m enjoying the
intellectual satisfaction of the tasks I do.”
If you are interested in volunteering with West Berkshire Cultural and Library service then please do get in contact. www.westberks.gov.uk/ volunteer or (01635) 519533.