Tuesday, 26 August 2014

From Volunteer to trainee: A similar event one year later - Corie Edwards

It was about mid-way through last year when I signed up as a Family Friendly volunteer with the Oxford University Museums and Collections (OUMC) Volunteer Service. There were many reasons for this decision, but by far my main motive was staying involved in education. I had only been in this city for a few months when I signed up and therefore once it was time to actually sign my name to an event I was excited and nervous. Excited because I had the chance to be involved in something I enjoy doing and nervous because I didn’t know anyone and knew very little about the museums and collections at that time. As it was summertime, the first event I decided to take part in was a Fruit and Veg picnic at the Oxford Botanic Garden.

I arrived early at the Garden so that the education team could run through everything the volunteers would be doing that day.  Throughout the three-hour event I was busy helping families, and at the end we did a bit of a cleanup. This is very much a usual day when volunteering at family events. I thoroughly enjoyed my time and continued volunteering through the OUMC volunteer service as often as I could.

Now, one year later, I am an HLF Skills for the Future Trainee and my first placement is with the Oxford Botanic Garden and Harcourt Arboretum. It seems fitting that my first placement is at the same place I had my first experience as a volunteer with the OUMC volunteer service. It really hit me this Saturday how far I have come in this last year because I worked the Fruit and Veg picnic at the garden this year, but as a member of staff. And needless to say working at the Fruit and Veg picnic this year as staff is very different to being a volunteer at it last year.

Fruit we used to sow seeds

Although the picnic had the same theme, there were different activities from last year to this year. This year we had basket making out of willow branches, sowing pips children collected from open fruits, and guess the smell pots, as well as various other things such as storytelling, live music, and face painting. As a trainee I was able to see far more of what goes into setting up and running these events than I did as a volunteer.

Visitors taking part in our activities

Just as a starting point, the planning for this event started even before my traineeship did as to have it advertised in the family friendly leaflet you need to have an idea of what you are going to do at least six months in advance. The days leading up to the family event are about creating resources and trying to get everything in order. On the day of the event the education officers and myself arrive about three hours before the start time to get everything together, set-up and out in the public area so that we can start right on time.

We had great weather for this picnic and a good turnout of families taking part. The two parts of this picnic that stuck out to me most were the basket making and storytelling.

It seemed to stick out to participants as well:

“We had a lovely afternoon listening to stories and making baskets! What a great idea. More of these please!”

The basket making was extremely popular and we actually went through all of the branches we had collected from the Arboretum. Families seemed to really enjoy how hands-on this craft was and the level of creativity. I saw many families get so involved in their basket they had no idea of the hours passing.

Basket making

A comment left by a teenage visitor:

“I think it has been an amazing experience doing this basket for 3 hours. Mostly because of the teamwork (or family work) and how with so many little things we can do a beautiful thing. Thank you :).”

The reason story telling sticks out in my mind is because this was my first time storytelling to a large group of families. I have read books to children previously, but never have I read to that many with their parents in one room. I was very nervous beforehand and even took the books with me on lunch break so I could read through them a couple times whilst eating! Once I was in front of the kids and started reading the nervousness passed, and by the end I felt quite delighted by little chuckles and wide eyes. 

Emma and Corie storytelling

You always hear it as a volunteer about how essential you are for the museum teams and events they run, but speaking for myself, I never actually realized how true that is. At the fruit and veg picnic I finally got it! The staff at the garden doesn’t usually do storytelling, they hire in a professional. However, our hired storyteller could not attend this picnic and therefore it was Emma and I who delivered. We could not have done that if we didn’t have three volunteers and another member of staff back at the activities. Having volunteers is essential and makes events better. Better for the staff to not have to be stretched in multiple directions and most importantly, better for those attending because they have multiple people to go to. 

One of our amazing volunteers

As a volunteer I enjoyed every event I helped with the OUMC volunteer service. It allowed me to better understand all the museums and collections, better understand the city I lived in, and make connections with people who enjoy similar things. I don’t think I would be where I am without this previous volunteer experience. I still truly enjoy family events and love that I have this opportunity to be a bigger part in their creation and dissemination.

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