Our volunteers are an incredible asset to the Epping Forest District and Lowewood Museums service and to our Heritage Lottery Funded project. They bring a vast array of skills and enthusiasm, and we’re very lucky that so many of our volunteers are also members of local historical societies, U3A groups and volunteer in other local historical venues as their knowledge and expertise considerably enhance our collections and research. However, you don’t have to be already knowledgeable in history to volunteer, we’re keen to involve all levels of interest and experience, and so many skills are transferable to collections care!
We will be updating you on the opportunities and volunteer projects over the year, this blog will give you a first-hand insight into the ‘behind the scenes’ work that our volunteer collections team assist us with.
At Epping Forest District Museum
In September, 2014 the volunteer collections team at Epping Forest District Museum returned to the stores alongside the Collections Manager and Volunteer Coordinator after a brief summer break.
As you may be aware the museum is closed for a refurbishment project so the staff and volunteers got stuck into the task of returning objects that had been on permanent display in the museum back to their original locations in the stores. This sounds simple, but can be a challenge, as a lot of what we do involves a fair amount of detective work! In order to relocate objects, we carefully unwrapped them from their protective acid free tissue to look for their accession number, a unique code found in every museum which identifies each object, this lets us know what the object is (as you can’t always tell from just looking at it) and where its store location is.
Our stores are vast and have hundreds of boxes, so it would be impossible to locate and put away objects safely and correctly without these accession numbers and correct cataloguing. The volunteers then hunt for the number and its location on our collections management system, a computer based database, and we go seeking the correct box in the stores. Along the way we got to look at a vast array of fascinating objects, and it can be difficult staying on task!
Volunteer Philip packing a box with acid free tissue for packing and future transport. He creates little ‘clouds’ of acid free tissue to support individual objects. The box is then sealed, with a packing list, and ready to go back to its store location!
Vanessa, collections volunteer, updating the object packing lists. This list goes into the box with the objects, so we have a record of what should be in there, and the object requirements, for example weight and fragility. This means when someone moves the box, they can tell what requirements the contents of the box has without any unnecessary handling of the objects which could damage fragile items.
Our archaeological collections proved an interesting challenge when we were repacking, as we placed incredibly fragile iron objects into airtight plastic boxes with fresh silica gel creating a ‘micro climate’ that protects the iron from degrading in humid environments. This involved very careful handling, as some iron objects, such as nail fragments can flake or crumble.
Volunteer Peter holding a copper alloy tap from Waltham Abbey Church, this unusual design of two animal heads and an animal head spout is thought to be a tap from a beer barrel. We were all thrilled by this medieval tap, and it requires careful packing in order to protect the decorative design.
At Lowewood Museum
Over at Lowewood museum, one of our volunteers was involved in assisting museum staff in the creation of the updated Braham Gallery, which celebrates our archaeological collections. Many of our archaeological collections have limited or no individual records, as a lot of archaeological collections tend to be ‘bulk’ recorded, due to the large numbers of objects that are collected. Volunteer Lia, who has a background in archaeology, assisted us by helping to record and update our records so our education and exhibitions team were able to share the stories of these objects.
Lia, writing object descriptions and location movement slips.
A molar tooth of a mammoth, one of the many prehistory objects Lia was researching.
And of course, besides all of our hard work at the stores we ensure we celebrate with our volunteers at Epping Forest District and Lowewood Museums. This year we had our first joint volunteer Christmas party and we’re looking forward to a busy and exciting 2015!
Volunteer Christmas party at Lowewood Museum, we had a pretty splendid buffet and celebrated the wonderful achievements of all our volunteers throughout 2014.