Last week was Volunteers Week and I just wanted to take that opportunity to say “thank you” to all of our fantastic volunteers.
We now have over 120 volunteers at Gressenhall who last year contributed over 9875 hours from April 2017 to March 2018. This is more hours than ever before recorded.
Over the course of the 3 year Voices from the Workhouse project volunteers have generated £96, 600 match funding by contributing 644 skilled days.
WOW! Without you all Gressenhall would not be the same and I can only repeat – thank you so much for everything that you do for the museum.
On Wednesday last week we were lucky enough to accompany several volunteers to the SHARE Museums East Volunteers Awards. It was incredibly difficult to pick and choose which volunteers to nominate as we think you are all super special. However, choices had to be made. Details below of these amazing people and teams who were nominated for an award:
Helen Copperthwaite – We Couldn’t Do Without Award
Helen is a very long standing volunteer with the Gressenhall Farm team. Having been inspired by a Horse Experience Day at the museum Helen wanted to help contribute to the running of our traditional farm. Come rain or shine or even heavy snow Helen is a dedicated and committed volunteer. We simply could not operate the museum farm without her support.
Helen enthusiastically approaches every task she is asked to do and intuitively resolves problems before we are aware of them. She is a keen baker and promotes team wellbeing by regularly brining in fantastic homemade baked cakes.
Helen regularly attends external events, supporting staff members at ploughing matches, county shows and parades. Her calming presence and help at the Great British Art Show enabled six teams of horses to deliver artworks across the city of Norwich on a busy Saturday morning!
Helen’s knowledge and passion for the farm shine through everything she does when she supports the popular horse and cart rides, interprets the seasonal activities to visitors, or assists in delivery of the farm-based programme for schools.
She always acts as a true advocate for Gressenhall. Helen is happy to engage with even the most mundane or grim tasks – mucking out, grooming and feeding, and always recognises the importance of animal welfare. Her helpful attitude and flexible approach ensures that she is a valued member of the team, who always goes the extra mile to provide a positive experience for visitors, fellow volunteers and staff alike.
Helen’s dedication to her volunteer role saw her complete a veterinary medicine course that qualifies her to administer medication to domestic livestock, further supporting the work of Gressenhall farm. The impact that Helen has at the museum, and the activities in which she engages, is best summed up by Helen herself, when interviewed by the Museums Association:
“I help to bring in the horses needed for work that day from the fields, feed and groom them, and harness them in whichever tack is needed. I also feed the livestock and clean out their accommodation. I talk to visitors about the horses and the work being done that day, and about Norfolk’s agricultural history. As a retired special school teacher, I am used to dealing with people I have only just met and am happy to engage with children of all ages. I have also found that my “teacher voice” can be used effectively with a Suffolk Punch that is considering biting me. I go home exhausted and often filthy, but happy.”
Helen is instrumental to the running of the farm and we couldn’t imagine Gressenhall without her.
Landscape Management Team – Visitor Experience Award
The Landscape Conservation Team was created in 2013 to maintain and develop Centenary Wood, a small piece of young woodland, planted on the museum site in the 1980s. Their work now takes them across the 50acre site, ensuring that the landscape is appropriately managed and maintained to provide visitors with a good first impression of the museum.
The group also contains several volunteers who require additional support, and the team has impressed with its acceptance of the varied skill levels of members and welcoming attitude to all.
The Landscape conservation team are involved with a large number of projects and tasks around the museum site, including:
- Assessing and identifying maintenance requirements for the woodland adventure playground to provide full safe access to all areas
- Traditional hedgelaying on historical enclosure lines
- Charcoal burning
- Creation of Neolithic structures to supporting formal learning programme
- Den building for informal activity provision
- Wood turning tasks, for example the creation of new handles for the farm seed drill
- Fence, boardwalk and gate renewals
- Hedge trimming and path clearance
- woods management
- storm damage clearance
- farm equipment repairs
- furniture preservation and repairs
- apple picking
Their work is illustrated in this film: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qGcFDyiEQ8E
Although fully engaged in the practical activity in question, all team members are always ready and willing to engage with visitors, to talk about their work and share their extensive knowledge and experiences.
The Landscape Conservation team are always the first to step forward in emergencies or when extra pairs of hands are needed: for example, mopping up after a serious water leak or spreading bark chippings delivered just before a formal inspection. Nothing is too much trouble, and they are always willing to lend support to whatever is needed at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse.
The Landscape Conservation Team always carry out any project with enthusiasm and dedication, proactively identifying tasks and activities required.
They have shown an outstanding level of support and commitment to the museum, regularly volunteering to come in for extra hours to complete tasks before a deadline, often in adverse weather conditions including finishing the preparations for the playground inspection during the attack of the “Beast from the East”.
Their work consistently makes a significant difference to the productivity and efficiency of the museum, completing tasks in house that would otherwise require expensive external contractors. They do not shy away from unpopular or unglamorous tasks and go wherever they are needed to support visitors, staff and other volunteers, ensuring that everyone’s experience of Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse is truly positive.
Research Team – Digital Volunteering Award – HIGHLY COMMENDED WINNERS!
The Gressenhall Research Volunteers have developed and led a project to catalogue and freely publish online all the archival material available on the history of the Gressenhall workhouse. This involved working closely in partnership with The National Archives (TNA) and the Norfolk Record Office (NRO) to digitise, summarise, catalogue, edit and interpret documents. Over 2000 have been completed to date. The team has worked hard to be inclusive – ensuring all volunteers have had the peer support and training they require to carry out this meticulous work and make it accessible to visitors and researchers.
The team’s work is varied on this project has included:
- Completion of the Living the Poor Life project (exploring the correspondence regarding Gressenhall Workhouse at TNA and piloting digital publication methods),
- Leading the drive to use the archival material within new, refreshed workhouse interpretation
- Carrying out digital research into the lives of over 100 inmates, staff members and Guardians to inform the successful HLF application
- Continuing research to ensure academic rigour within the new workhouse galleries
- Using family history tools online to track down descendants of key people interpreted within the displays and liaising, together with staff, to involve them in the interpretation of their ancestral stories
- Enabling universal access to these archives through their publication online, and by public events and family history enquiries at the museum
- Enabling and supporting all volunteers in the team with peer led training and the creation of digital instruction manuals, form templates and guidelines for cataloguers
- Working on the structuring of the complex digital data and pilot project to publish NRO material
The team’s work has been instrumental:
- For the museum:
- Enabled digital interpretation tool to be created allowing access to digitised archives on site
- Enabled complex and emotionally difficult work with descendants to be carried out with care and sensitivity. For example using online records, volunteers traced the family of a man who committed suicide after being turned away from the workhouse, giving us the opportunity to work with them closely on the telling of his story within the displays.
- Volunteer team members offered digital training to external partners for the first time, working with heritage organisations from Wicklewood, Aylsham and Downham Market.
- For our visitors:
- Volunteers are creating the first ever freely available, complete workhouse archive online
- Contributed to a public marketplace event encouraging visitors to research their own workhouse family history online
- For our volunteers:
- Inspired and provided the tools for international volunteers from Carleton College to use the digital archives and create new interpretation of the House of Industry period at the workhouse
- Built the confidence of individual team members using digital tools for the first time
This year has seen an amazing range of achievements for our Gressenhall volunteers and the Awards were a lovely opportunity to thank just a few of the wonderful people we work with. However, thank you to all of you for your time and effort. In our eyes you are all winners.
Thanks once more for your effort, enthusiasm and support. Gressenhall wouldn’t be the same without you.