Volunteers’ Week is a national celebration of the contribution millions of people make every year through volunteering.
At Westminster Archives we are lucky to have a wonderful team of volunteers, who have helped with a whole range of projects on our collections including research, indexing, cataloguing, education projects, and running events. There are also a large number of volunteers who have assisted our Conservator, Georgia, in our conservation studio.
This year some of our conservation volunteers have shared their motivations for volunteering and experiences with us.
We are so grateful for their time and look forward to welcoming them back to the archives in the future.
Following retirement, I wanted to do something a million miles away from what I had been doing before (medicine). The opportunity came to volunteer in the conservation department of Westminster City Archive and without any previous experience I walked up to the fourth floor soaked and windblown from a sudden shower to meet the team. Nearly five years later, I still look forward to meeting Georgia and friends on Thursdays to clean, sew and repair the variety of documents that await our attention. Each time, I come away with another little piece of Westminster history in my head and a spring in my step. Thank you Georgia.
I started volunteering every Thursday at the archives last year. I didn’t really know what to expect and thought volunteers might just be dogsbodies while “real” staff did all the interesting work! That’s not the case at all. I was thrilled to find that Georgia encourages all the volunteers to be hands-on in learning how to clean and repair documents, some of which haven’t been seen for many many years. A few of them, like Victorian vestry letters, are frankly dull, but others like a collection of postcards sent to a young soldier on the Western front from a variety of different girlfriends, are touching and eye-opening. There is always something new and interesting to find out, which makes my volunteering experience really rewarding. I have always been interested in history, and at the archives history comes alive through the papers we work on. This voluntary work even inspired me to sign up for a paper conservation and bookbinding course.
I enjoy volunteering in the conservation studio of Westminster Archives because of the variety of preservation programmes and for getting involved in preparing community engagement projects. So many of them during my time with Georgia. On Thursdays along with a big group of other volunteers, we are making joyful noises chatting and giggling, while we are working on the collections. It is a rewarding experience giving me a sense of life satisfaction by offering to the community.
As a Friend of the WCA and having attended many events held by the Archives, I decided that I would like to volunteer with them in the conservation department. Georgia and the team are wonderful to work with and the atmosphere is very calm and educational. Georgia has taught me how to conserve documents and I started work on a collection of theatre programmes and magazines from the 1950’s. It was like stepping back in time and reliving part of my childhood, seeing photographs of the younger Bruce Forsyth and reading an article on an up and coming stage designer; Barbara Hepworth no less. I’ve watch as much older books and documents are lovingly preserved and then made available for the general public to view. Working in the department has given me new skills and knowledge in a very friendly and welcoming environment.
I have enjoyed being a paper conservation volunteer for a long time. Georgia’s regular volunteers are a friendly and inclusive group with a love of London and an interest in its history. We enjoy not only the work, but also in meeting new people, especially the international students who spend part of their UK study time learning paper conservation skills from Georgia who also holds a training refresher day each year for us to ensure we maintain standards and don’t get into bad habits. This past year we have worked on some fascinating material held by Westminster Archives, in particular the Parish records of St Margaret’s including the workhouse records. We cleaned and repaired the apprentice bonds, learning at the same time about the diverse trades the workhouse youth were sent to be trained in, for example I was surprised at the number of apprentice fishermen needed in Wandsworth. We also found that London children were sent as far away as Yorkshire to work in the mills, but were not forgotten as agents of the workhouse were instructed to interview the children on their own to find out truthfully how they were being treated. I’m looking forward to being able to return to volunteering and also attending again the interesting visits and tours organised by Georgia.
My volunteering in the conservation studio of Westminster Archives has been a positive experience. After my retirement, I have started volunteering as I love history and I wanted to give something back to the community; the experience has been truly rewarding! Georgia placed me in a suitable group with like-minded people, and since then, I have learned new skills through appropriate training, I have improved my English and made new friends. The environment is friendly, yet professional and I am happy to go back every week, to help preserve Westminster’s history! I love the social events and visits organised for volunteers. Many thanks Georgia!
My first experience at Westminster Archives was in a professional capacity as a practising architect researching the architectural drawings held by the archives. It was a natural progression when I became semi-retired to volunteer to assist with the collection especially as I am a resident of Westminster. I found as a volunteer that I was joining a team that was very inclusive, enthusiastic and managed by a dedicated team of professionals. I have worked on cleaning Westminster’s Theatreland as well as Parish records. The level of professionalism of the staff is of the highest order, with a deep interest in the collections they manage. Georgia looks after us with enthusiasm and patience when we have the inevitable query. She also organises stimulating visits which have included the Weiner Library and the Banqueting House. In conclusion volunteering at Westminster Archives has been fulfilling and interesting and I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in Westminster’s history.
Bryan Guttridge MA MSt (Cantab) Dipl.Arch. RIBA
I started volunteering at Westminster Archives a couple of years ago. Right from the beginning Georgia made me feel very welcome and wanted and we have become friends. I thoroughly enjoy my days at the archives Conservation Department and have learned a great deal from Georgia who is an extremely knowledgeable, enthusiastic mentor and teacher. It’s been a pleasure helping and I hope to continue for many years to come.
Thank you again to our wonderful volunteers!