‘Volunteers are like a secret weapon of the museums sector’

A guest post by Jack Walton, a volunteer at Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums. Jack’s article first appeared on the Guardian website as part of its Culture Professionals series.

Jack Walton currently volunteers within Tyne & Wear Archives and with Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums’ Boxes of Delight service for schools. He recently won the Outstanding Contribution by a Young Volunteer under 25 award at the annual North East Regional Volunteer Awards ceremony in 2015.

Jack Walton volunteering behind the scenes in Discovery Museum

Jack Walton volunteering behind the scenes in Discovery Museum

What is a museum volunteer expected to do?

All sorts! I’ve helped with object handling sessions; I’ve got school loans boxes prepped and ready for groups; I’ve helped reorganise and re-number council minute books in the archives; I’ve transcribed log books that are almost five times as old as me; and I’ve even spent a whole evening dressed up as a zombie.

Volunteers are almost like a secret weapon of the museums sector. We care about our history, heritage and collections just as much as paid staff do. We’re there to allow others to get the absolute best out of our venues and the phenomenal services they provide.

How does it feel to be a volunteer?

Pride is the best way to describe how I feel about what I do. I adore helping however and wherever I can, making sure people (staff and customers) are happy and having a good time. It’s all so at the end of the day I can step back, look at what’s been accomplished and say: “That was us – we did that.”

I also have a lot of fun. You meet lots of brilliant people when volunteering, both staff and members of the public. You also get to do things that very few other people can say they’ve done. It’s not every day you can say: “I got to hold a 1600s copy of Charles I’s death warrant!”

What are the challenges of the volunteer model?

Galleries and museums are starting to come to terms with all the changes to budgets and funding of the past few years. They’ve looked at ways to continue providing such an exceptional service while at the same time meeting their various targets. Volunteers can help there.

We want to make it easier for people, helping with the necessary-but-time-consuming tasks, the needs-more-boots-on-the-ground events and the things-have-come-up moments.

An extra pair of hands and a smiling face. That’s us!

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