Vivien Kay              

I started volunteering at the Bailiffgate Museum in September 2003, when the youngest of my six children started school.

In the early summer of 2003 I was listening to Radio Newcastle and heard an appeal for volunteers at the Bailiffgate Museum. I thought it sounded interesting, so phoned and made an appointment with the curator, Jemma Taylor. I was looking for a volunteering opportunity outside home and school. I had been on several committees at parent and toddler groups, preschools, PTAs and school governing bodies and was looking for something different.

For the first few years it was my “chill” day, away from housework and meeting new people. If the Museum was quiet I took a book or some knitting – a rare opportunity to indulge in two of my past hobbies. Then one day I was asked if I would be prepared to use the Front of House computer to word process articles from the Northumberland Gazette for an exhibition as the Gazette had not been digitally recorded. I undertook this with relish and so began more involvement in the Museum.


In June 2007 I left the Museum to work on a project in the local community raising funds to improve the play facilities. I returned in September 2010 to do a regular Front of House session on Wednesday mornings. The collections team met on Wednesday afternoons and needed help with cataloguing, so I began to take a packed lunch and stay for the day.

When James, the curator, announced that he would be leaving in March 2011 I said I would be interested in getting involved in the Education and Outreach side of the Museum. By then a further two volunteers had joined the collections team, and much as we enjoyed working together there was barely space for four people in the archive store. James showed me the Loans and Reminiscence Boxes and I started by getting to know what was in them, checking whether there was anything missing. I then looked at the Education Pack and found a few things in it out of date. As the Museum was unable to afford to reprint the Pack I made an amendment sheet. I noticed that over the two years I had been away from the Museum there had been very few school visits to the Museum as James had done a lot of Outreach work, and schools found this easier and less expensive than organising a trip to the Museum. I started distributing packs to local first and middle schools, enlisting the help of other volunteers for outlying schools.  I then took out the curriculum sheets and made the Pack suitable for distribution to youth groups such as Brownies, Guides, Cubs, Scouts, etc.

The school holidays were approaching and we noticed that in the local “What’s On” Guide Family Activities at the Bailiffgate Museum were advertised so I set about finding resources and planning activities which corresponded with the current exhibition. I have done this each school holiday since, more recently with the help of another volunteer, Hilary Waugh. Much of the time it is paper based activities that children and families can complete without supervision, but I have also organised and lead workshops, including Circus Stars (in conjunction with the local library summer reading scheme), making leather wristbands and a Victorian Day.

I was asked if I could organise a visit by a group of Brownies, so I organised a town trail quiz from our education pack, then when they returned to the Museum they dressed in our Victorian Costumes and played with some of the toys and sat at the desks. I rounded off the evening telling a Northumberland Fairy Tale.

I have organised school visits around our Toys and Games through History collection for classes from a local First School.

An Education Team was formed at a volunteer meeting to work to increase awareness of our Education and Outreach Service, in particular to plan lessons around our Loans Boxes and to remind local care homes and day care centres of our Reminiscence Boxes. Unfortunately due to family and work commitments and illness, this team dwindled to two members, me and Hilary. However Hilary has made a lesson plan for our 1950s Box and has delivered workshops for the Queen’s Jubilee at a local school in partnership with the Alnwick Garden. We hope to make lesson plans for each of 14 Boxes.

Due to the nature of volunteering people do come and go at will. I think the important thing is to make use of and show we value the skills offered by each individual no matter how long or short their stay with us. Hopefully they will then pass on to their friends what a good place Bailiffgate Museum is to be a volunteer. If you or someone you know is looking for something worthwhile to help the community why not use the form below?






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