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From Francesca Goff, of the British Museum…

At the end of November last year, I spent a fascinating week at Salisbury Museum as part of the British Museum’s Knowledge Exchange programme, a scheme that is supported by the Vivmar Foundation. Having heard excellent things about the programme from colleagues who had previously taken part, I was looking forward to the prospect of spending a week at a different museum learning about its volunteers and all that they did. Additionally, having already hosted Bridget Telfer, Volunteer Co-ordinator at Salisbury Museum, at the British Museum, I was pleased to have the opportunity to catch up with her and continue the conversations we had started about the volunteer programmes at our respective museums. However, I had not realised how beneficial my week in Salisbury would be, nor how much I would enjoy my time there.

Ahead of my arrival, Bridget planned a really exciting week of activities for me, with plenty of opportunities to get to know Salisbury Museum, its staff and its dedicated volunteers. My week began with a wonderful tour of the galleries by volunteer Paul Marsh. He seemed to know something about just about everything, and was full of interesting stories about what at first glance seemed the most innocuous looking objects. As coordinator of the volunteer-led tours of the British Museum and having delivered tours myself as a volunteer elsewhere, it was really interesting to hear about volunteer-led tours at Salisbury, and Bridget and I later discussed how these could be developed in the future.

I met with numerous staff over the course of the week, including Fiona Johnstone who works with the Portable Antiques Scheme, who I was pleased to discover had been a former volunteer at the British Museum. Each person I spoke to was full of praise about the volunteers who supported their work and it became clear that the volunteers were an essential part of the museum. I was lucky to have my visit coincide with a Volunteer Coffee Morning, during which Louise Tunnard, the Communications Officer, gave an in-depth talk to the volunteers about marketing Salisbury Museum. She was followed by two volunteers, Gail Davis and Kate Wickson, who spoke about their recent research on pilgrim badges. This prompted a discussion between the assembled volunteers and it was great fun to see everyone exchanging ideas. We have recently started hosting volunteer coffee mornings at the British Museum and participating in a similar event at Salisbury Museum gave me lots of room for thought.

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Volunteer coffee morning at Salisbury Museum

The enthusiasm of staff was reflected by the many volunteers who I spent time with during my week in Salisbury. Volunteer Christine Mason spoke to me about the ‘Talking Objects’ project, which whilst on a smaller scale, is similar to the British Museum’s Hands-on Desks – but at Salisbury volunteers are able to select their own objects to show visitors with the assistance of Adrian Green, Director of Salisbury Museum. I found out about the vast amount of work volunteers have contributed to the ‘Finding Pitt-Rivers’ project; spent a cosy couple of hours with some of the Costume Project volunteers who were kind enough to bring out one of their favourite objects; and shadowed a school session led by Learning Officer Owain Hughes and volunteer Ian Dixon, an ex-teacher whose experience shone through

Bridget had also arranged visits to three other organisations supported by volunteers. I was fortunate enough to attend a volunteer-led Tower Tour at Salisbury Cathedral, for example, and looked down as Salisbury Museum from on high. On my last day in Salisbury, we took an excursion out to the Priest’s House Museum in Wimborne Minster and then visited Poole Museum, where we met their wonderful garden volunteers, out tending their plants despite the chilly weather. At each of these places it came through again and again how vital volunteers were to each organisation and how much they were valued. I was reminded constantly of how much support is given by volunteers to museums and galleries all over the UK, something which we celebrate annually at the British Museum through the Marsh Award for Volunteers in Museum Learning, and I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to meet some of those people who give their time and support for free.

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Tower tour image of Salisbury Museum

My week at Salisbury Museum was enjoyable, useful and thought-provoking and I am enormously glad I had the chance to spend a week there through the Knowledge Exchange programme. Although there are differences between the volunteer programmes at the British Museum and Salisbury Museum in terms of size and specific roles, those are outweighed by similarities and the dedication shown by all volunteers involved in them. I wish the volunteers and staff at Salisbury Museum the best going forwards and want to say thank you to everyone who helped host me throughout the week.