Hello everyone and welcome to another Museums Musings blog! Last week was National Volunteering Week and Sandwell Museums has been thanking its wonderful volunteers and Friend’s groups from all our sites. Often behind the scenes, it is important that we take a little look into what our friends and volunteers do for us, and of course thanking them along the way because we couldn’t do it without them!
Meetings and ideas.
As you can imagine over our different sites our friends and volunteers do various jobs and some are unique to each site or each volunteer. From garden maintenance, historical research, dressing as a character (including Santa), helping with reception or crafts, painting and flower arranging to making the perfect cup of tea, there is a job for everyone! Our friends groups meet regularly and discuss any events they would like to run or what support we need for events and anything they feel would benefit the site and just have a general catch up with a cuppa. It is a huge help to staff to have a larger group of local people to bounce ideas off and their input is invaluable!
Dressing the part.
Staff and volunteers alike are no stranger to wearing a costume or two! At all our sites it is a common theme that you will end up dressing up as something, and our friends and volunteer groups are always open to dressing up as whatever we require, whether it be Frankenstein’s bride, Medieval dress or 1940s’ attire, they are always open and willing to participate! Obviously, this is a huge part of creating an authentic and welcoming feel to our museums and we thank them all for their participation no matter how ridiculous it may be; everyone is always willing to give it their best go!
Tea, cake and events.
Personally, I think this is a big factor in being a friend or volunteer! Can you make a good cuppa? Whether at Bromwich Hall, Oak House, Galton Valley or Haden Hill House, this a skill that will be needed! Our amazing volunteers and friends run our tea rooms at events making many a cup of tea for our visitors (and serving cake of course) always with a smile! It can get very busy at times, but they always do a fantastic job! This, to staff members is a huge help because it frees us up to do other jobs on event days and deal with any issues that arise. At Bromwich Hall I have even heard one member of the public say it’s the best cuppa they have ever had which is praise indeed!
At all our sites our friends’ groups run their own events, which are planned and run by them or support and help out at our events . These activities are varied and provide a different experience for our visitors. At Haden Hill House the friends group open Haden Old Hall on event days and open days along with manning the tea room, they also, deliver a Victorian Evening which is offered to local community groups. They have in the past hosted, along with the team from Haden Hill House Museum, a “Victorian afternoon tea” experience for the Employee recognition award scheme that SMBC ran. They have also worked on a joint Black Country Museums project, funded by HLF & The Arts council, to promote joining volunteer groups, what they can offer and how it could help older or retired people come to terms with social isolation, meet new people and get involved.
Bromwich Hall friends also run events organised by them including, paranormal investigations and psychic evenings which always prove very popular! There are also friends who are very interested in the history of Bromwich Hall and help to research the building and the surrounding area. Another interesting fact about our friends is that we have one member who is trained in herbal medicines so can give fantastic talks about herbs used in medicine which is a great addition to Bromwich Hall.
Green fingers and wildlife
As you can imagine our sites take a lot of maintaining, especially our outside spaces! Our most established gardening group is at Oak House who over the past five years, have completely transformed the Oak House grounds. The group have cleared overgrown areas, removed inappropriate planting and created new pathways for the public to enjoy, implemented an herb garden, a knot garden, planted fruit trees and a wild flower area to compliment the 17th century property and its stories. The gardening group have also been nominated for and won several Britain in Bloom awards for the gardens over the past few years and were runners up in the West Midlands Museum Development Volunteer awards last year. The group also plant and garden for wildlife and have fitted bird boxes and bat boxes in the grounds and have planted bee and insect friendly plants in the wildlife area. Quite an achievement and we thank them for all their hard work and support!
Bromwich Hall would also like to thank its gardening maintenance group, having only been a museum for the last ten years, Bromwich Hall has seen a lot of changes, but in the past year our garden maintenance group have worked hard to maintain our site which has involved a lot of weeding and clearing up. We also want to thank them for their input at friends meeting when discussing what we could do next with our green spaces, their ideas as their input is invaluable, and we can’t thank them enough for their help and support.
A HUGE thank you must also be given to the Friends of Galton Valley Pumping Station, one of our smaller museums. They are a small but very dedicated group of volunteers and as we have no dedicated member of staff at the Pumping Station (we run it from Wednesbury Museum) we just couldn’t open or run the building without them. The group have also adopted the area of the canal around the museum as part of a Canals and Rivers Trust initiative and they litter pick, garden and tidy the area. Like many of our volunteers they are also very knowledgeable about the building they help support and its history.
What our friends and volunteers really mean to us as a service
I would like to finish off this blog by saying what our friends and volunteers really mean to us at all our sites. There aren’t enough words we could say to thank them, we are so fortunate to have such a lovely bunch of people always willing to help us. I think it is important currently to say how much we value everything you do! We usually spend a lot of time with our volunteer and friends’ groups, but due to social distancing we haven’t seen them in a while (although we keep in touch) and we miss them all very much. So, from every member of staff at Sandwell Museums thank you, for every day dressed up, cup of tea made, and event planned, we couldn’t have done it without you and we can’t wait to see you all back in our museums. The cups of teas will be on us this time!
Catherine – Visitor services Assistant, Bromwich Hall.
(Thank you to staff at Haden Hill and Oak House Museums for helping with this blog)