Now, I know my responsibilities during the grand opening of the brand new Wessex Gallery in July were nowhere near as weighty as those born by the people who had planned the event, or designed and built the wonderful gallery, or decided which rare objects were to be displayed, but I was still a tad nervous about my small part in the celebrations.
I had been asked to lead and co-ordinate a team of volunteers whose task it was to make sure all stallholders and volunteers were supplied with constant cups of tea and coffee or cold drinks throughout the day. Nothing at all complicated about that of course, but what slightly worried me was the thought of battling through thousands of expected visitors and their excited children with trays of hot drinks.
But as with the rest of the day, nothing had been left to chance and I was shown a nifty back route that by-passed the crowds and took us directly to the stalls. Meeting the stallholders was terrific fun. Members of the Saxon group ‘Weorod’ jovially asked for their drinks to be poured into their own authentic horn and clay drinking vessels, the Norman falconry group needed restorative cups of coffee after one of their prize birds disappeared into the trees, and the medieval minstrel, who played his flute all day at the entrance of the museum garden, needed non-stop cups of water to assist in his jolly tootling.
The only typically British worry for the organisers of the day was the one thing no-one can ever organise – the weather. But the weather Gods, possibly encouraged by the ancient pagan, Roman, Anglo-Saxon and early Christian votive objects on display in the Gallery, decided to offer their additional support, and in the event the sun blazed down from beginning to end.
Indeed, the high temperatures were causing some people to wilt, particularly those dressed in striking but heavy medieval clothes, so the supply of refreshments through the day was greeted with grateful relief.
I was also a little wary about leading a team of people I had never met before, being a brand new volunteer at the museum myself. But I need not have worried. I know now why the term ‘an army of volunteers’ is used – the lovely people who turned up to help were ordered, quietly efficient and very speedy.
I read afterwards that public reaction to the new £2.4 million Wessex Gallery, which now holds some of the most important archaeological finds in the world, was overwhelmingly positive, and that over 2,200 people visited the museum that day. It was great to be a part of it, and a wonderful hands-on way to start my new role as a volunteer at The Salisbury Museum. Tea anyone?