Awards, volunteering and all that jazz.

IMG_1177Winning awards for volunteering is kind of weird. Every single volunteer nominated for an awards is doing amazing things, they love what they do, they are passionate about their museums. Ultimately they are making huge impacts in their communities sharing their time, energy, enthusiasm, passion and expertise. How you can decide one volunteer over another is beyond me.

Wednesday night I took my husband to the Museums and Heritage Awards, we dressed in our finery and joined a few colleagues from the Museum of London to cheer and clap some amazing museums, great projects and innovative campaigns. I was joint winner of the volunteer of year along side a lovely lady, Jessica Arnold from the Mid Hants Railway. It was a strange and wonderful night including the emergency sewing on my husband’s tuxedo in Charing Cross station 5 minutes before we arrived at the venue (best not to ask).

I am very grateful. It has been a time of reflection for me, in August it will be six years since I quit my job. Six years ago my daughter finally got her autism diagnosis and I felt I needed time to support her as we were having some problems at school. With three kids under 10, trying to work and cope with the extra pressure that autism can bring was slowly grinding me down.

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Bromley Museum now closed

I thought I would do a little bit of volunteering in my local museum because I love history. I thought it would help me keep my sanity, I didn’t do it to make a big impact, to win awards or influence the sector. I remember those early days very clearly, sitting in the great hall at Bromley Museum greeting visitors, prepping for the family sessions and helping with exhibitions. I loved working with Maggie on the summer holiday sessions packed with kids making woolly mammoth dioramas and Chinese masks.

I remember getting involved with Bromley’s Heritage Lottery Fund bid, I went to my kids school and ran some sessions for them to talk about what type of museum they would like to see. There were some fantastic responses, including the pizza museum, which were displayed next to the grand designs for a new museum.

When I left my paid job it was frightening and hard and a relief all mixed into one. I thought I hadn’t really made the most of my career, it is certainly a time to analyse it when you are worried whether you will work in a particular sector again. I remember thinking that although I had had good jobs at the Financial Times and London School of Economics, I probably hadn’t put my all into them.

I just thought with the volunteering I would put my heart and soul into to it. For once I wouldn’t worry about the ‘what might have beens’ or the ‘could have dones’. I was just going to go for everything, try my hardest and enjoy it.

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Volunteer Inclusion at the Museum of London Archive

Whilst working at Bromley I met Adam Corsini from the Museum of London, he was working on an outreach project called ‘Unearthing Bromley’. He told me about the Volunteer Inclusion Project at the Museum of London archive where you could repack archaeology, a time-bound project running one day a week for 10 weeks. We went along to the shopping centre in Bromley and saw the Museum of London team – staff and volunteers, carrying out community engagement, encouraging shoppers to repack Roman pots sherds thousands of years old. It was a revelation, on the way to swimming I took my girls and they joined in, getting hands on with our Roman ancestors under the bright shiny lights of a 21st century temple to commerce.

When I quit work I thought I would start a museum-focussed twitter account and write a blog about visiting exhibitions. Simple as that. For the first few months I wrote absolutely nothing. It was the volunteering inclusion project and the Museum of London archive that was the inspiration for those first few blogs. When I look back at that first blog is seems a million miles away from today.

So now I am throwing myself into the world of museums – a volunteer in my local museum, a museum visitor and museum lover. I hope one day to be a museum student. I am not sure if I am at the beginning but just as when you visit a museum you have to start somewhere. So this shall be my start and I hope you enjoy the visit! October 2012

Well, I certainly did throw myself into the world of museums! Putting my thoughts and feelings down into words was, in a way, the easy part. The hard part is then sharing them, putting them out there for the world to see. You bare your soul, you show your best side, hope no one can see the cracks underneath.

This blog is really meant to be a thank you to all those I have worked with, volunteered with and had fun with. I have started this blog talking about myself and those early years to give you an idea of where I was when all this started. How I was unsure, tired, strained, vulnerable. Getting my head round an autism diagnosis and what that meant for my daughter. Struggling with leaving the safety blanket of work.

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We may have consumed a few drinks before these pictures were taken…

I hope you can see how each and every person on the way has helped me, supported me, lifted me up and inspired me to keep volunteering, keep learning, keep tweeting and blogging too. There have been many times when I thought – Why am I doing all this? Why am I running around to museum exhibitions, staying up late to finish blogs, awake at night worrying about talks? Many times when I thought I should just give it up.

Then days when I have loved every second, when I have been really challenged, when I have learnt about myself and how to work with other people. Days when I have got to work on amazing collections and seen such beautiful, quirky astonishing objects that have such a history and life to them.

I have kept going because I have been encouraged all the way. When I met someone and they said they liked a blog, when an education officer has said my blogs inspired autism events, when my Twitter family have piped up with a reassuring word and thoughtful message. If I sat and listed every person I wanted to thank I would be here all day, from Bromley Museum to the Horniman, from the Globe to Kids in Museums, all the press officers, curators, conservation staff, fabulous volunteers, the amazing exhibitions and exceptional learning and education programs that have inspired me to write.

2013-07-18 13.25.20The Museum of London has been my volunteering home, my inspiration for over 4 years now. The flexibility of their volunteering programme has allowed me to still drop off the kids and be there when I need to be, it has fitted around my busy times of press views and other volunteering commitments. Working with the amazing Libby has given me concrete skills in collection care, a fun supportive environment but a learning one too.

Museum of London staff have always had the time to talk whether it is about a new exhibition or a word of encouragement on career choices. I am completely biased, it is the best museum with the best collections and the best staff. They have asked me to talk at conferences that have really pushed me but given me confidence too, talking with Lucy Creighton at the Society of Museum Archaeologists was a real highlight.

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Adam has a lot to answer for…

And to Adam Corsini I owe a huge debt of gratitude, encouraging me with those very first blogs and for supporting my work at Bromley including helping to organise an outreach session in the local Tesco superstore – which was by far one of the weirdest afternoons I have had in a supermarket.

When I came to him with the idea of working with CASPA, a charity that supports autistic families, he took the idea and with Lucy they made it happen. Taking 8 young autistic adults on a work experience project that helped to give them the confidence to get out there and make the most of their lives, it’s a project that I will never forget.

This blog is too long and I am waffling now but it is hard to put into words how much I owe to all the people along the way including my family. Without my Mum and Dad and my husband picking up the kids and getting the dinner done (and paying the bills and reading all the blogs!) I would not be able to do all this stuff.

Awards are great, fab, a time to celebrate and look back on achievements. They are also a time to stop and say thanks, thank you to everyone who has helped me get to this point. I don’t know what will happen in the next six years, if I stopped right now I wouldn’t regret a minute.

One of the joys of this blog is I feel I can take you along with me, all those of you out there still reading my blogs and sharing them, I have to thank you too. So onwards and upwards, more blogs, a heck of a lot more tweets, more exhibitions and more autism in museums. I get the feeling it is going to be busy but I really wouldn’t want it any other way.

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