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My volunteering experience

Tuesday 1st May 2018

My name is Tony Grant. I have just become a volunteer at the Geffrye Museum.


I have recently retired as a teacher and I need to do something useful with my life. I did a course many years ago in museum education.  The Geffrye was at the forefront of museum education during the 1950s and 1960s lead by a charismatic curator called Molly Harrison. Her work influenced museum education throughout the museum world. Ten years ago I took groups of children, from the school I was working in at the time, to the Geffrye to learn about lighting and heating in the home throughout the centuries. On another occasion we focused on the Victorian rooms because we were doing the Victorians. So in many ways the Geffrye Museum has meant a lot to me and that is why I want to be a volunteer.

I applied online and Fran, Audience Development Coordination: Volunteers & Communities, invited me to an interview with herself and El the present Assistant Curator at The Geffrye. The interviewing experience was a pleasant, relaxed process. The bit I enjoyed the most was being asked to talk about an object that meant a lot to me. I brought a photograph of myself and two friends taken when we walked in the Lake District. I was able to talk about the social, emotional and physical and how the experience had affected me. That, in a way is what museums are about. They not only tell a story but they engage on a personal level and make you ask questions.


After the interview I was invited to a training day with Fran and El and two other enthusiastic, lovely people, also aspirant volunteers, Ville and Ailsa. The day was intensive, fun and creative, covering health and safety, how to respond to and lead a small group on a tour, working with people who have special educational needs or disabilities, object handling and how we can use questioning to help promote thinking. Questions that require observation, knowledge, prediction and analysis are hierarchical and are at the heart of what teaching is about. Volunteer guides are,” teachers.” The bit I liked the most about the day, apart from a very nice buffet lunch provided by Fran, was the artefact handling. There is something about handling an object from the past or the present. It connects you with the person who made the artefact and the people who used it and its historical context.


Being a volunteer at The Geffrye is for anybody. I am a retired teacher, Ville is a London guide and Ailsa is a student taking a gap year before she attends university. Meeting some of the other volunteers I discovered they come from all walks of life. The Geffrye is involved with the local community. Local people become involved in many things that go on at The Geffrye.


The training day was followed by a number of shadowing sessions. I met some of the other volunteers and all of them are so enthusiastic. I loved meeting them. I shadowed Peter on a tour. He has a considerable depth of knowledge about the Geffrye. He is also extremely good at relating to the people on the tours. I was impressed at how they responded to Peter. He certainly inspired me. Elizabeth was another experienced guide Ville and I shadowed together. Peter’s personality shone through in the tours he leads and certainly Elizabeth matched him for personality, knowledge and presentation. I learned that each guide brings their own slant to the tour they provide.  I certainly want to emulate them. I am inspired by both Peter and Elizabeth.

Fran treated us gently. She gave us the time we needed before becoming fully fledged volunteers. I got to the point where I wanted to have a go myself. Fran provided us with folders containing the information we need, covering every aspect of the tour and the museum. I spent time reading and making notes. In preparation for my assessment tour I also made crib cards so I could refer to them when leading a tour. Fran and El carried out an assessment tour with myself and Ville. We both passed. That was a great feeling. I asked if we get certificates, but no, sadly. We do get the honour of taking a tour by ourselves now, which I am looking forward to.


/ Tony, Almshouse tour guide volunteer


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