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Meet Garden Volunteer, Janet

Thursday 19th April 2018

Let’s meet some of our volunteers here at the Geffrye museum. At the moment we are over 100 people in the volunteer community, helping the museum in lots of ways. Three volunteers are Janet, Patrick and Sophie who all support different areas within the museum. One thing they have in common, however,  is their love for the museum and how they find volunteering is a good way for them to give something back.  I caught up with Janet who has been volunteering in the gardens for 3 years.


Janet remembers the first time she visited the museum, it was back in 1981 when she took her new born daughter to the grounds: “I have loved the museums itself but back then the rear garden wasn’t created and to see these beautiful spaces behind the museum being used – I love it!”.  The garden is a special place for Janet and after retiring and taking a course in horticulture she longed to use her hands again doing something practical. After years of working in both midwifery and human resources she wanted to pursue other interests. Janet has also been very active in different charities for many different causes- homeless women, working for equality within the NHS and she was one of the founders of Friends of the Earth in UK. She continues to volunteers for a few different causes as well as helping look after her grandchildren. Janet says: “Since retiring people often ask ‘what do you do?’ What do I say to that? – Nothing, I work as a garden volunteer or this and that. You can answer it in so many ways. Also, the concept of work is a bit strange. I’m working a day every week here, even though it’s voluntarily it’s still work isn’t it? It makes you think about people’s idea of work. You’re often only worthy if you’ve got some incredibly stressful full-on job”.


Volunteering in the garden isn’t always very glamorous Janet says, but she loves to be able to see the changes every season and to help maintaining it. “As soon as you re-cut, things are revealed to you. I like that about gardening, there is this constant cycle. Plants are visible and then they die and then they flower again. It sounds a bit corny but it’s so nice to see that.” The social aspect is a big part of volunteering: “It’s a nice comradery amongst the volunteers, I’ve met some really great people with very different backgrounds. We are probably around ten volunteers in gardening. We get to know each other, although with gardening you’re working hard alongside somebody in silence, we do chat over lunch and that. You’re a part of the team but equally you have to enjoy your own company and just enjoy being outside”. When volunteering, she likes that she’s not a leader as she’s often been in her former employments.  Janet commented how she has learned more about working with other people and at the same time been a part of something valuable.


Janet has a big love for small intimate gardens like the Geffrye Museum’s: “Some of it is a historic reason why I like the Geffrye. During my training in horticulture I always had the view that I would work in a garden that is open to the public. I could have volunteered in one of the royal parks but you know, they’re massive and you have to deal with a lot of litter and other substances, so this garden is so much nicer. I love the fact, certainly around the back it’s suitable for little children to crawl around.” She continues: “The Geffrye museum would not be anywhere near as attractive without its gardens. It’s a beautiful place, I love the interiors but I just think that the gardens are stunning.”


Next week we’re introducing Patrick who’s volunteering as an almshouse tour guide.

/Maja, Volunteer programme Digital Communications Assistant



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