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Thursday 28 June 2012

Want to get into museums? Volunteer. One volunteer's success story.

Guest Post by Cat Lumb

Secondary and Post-16 Co-ordinator (Humanities)

Manchester Museum

University of Manchester

When I first started volunteering at The Egypt Centre I was nineteen years old. It was the first year of my Egyptology and Anthropology degree and I’d just been reliably informed that jobs linked to the field of Egyptology were rare to come by, especially in the UK. Ten years have passed and in that time I’ve designed, developed and delivered two OCR ‘Introduction to Egyptology’ courses for Adult Education and found a position I adore with The Manchester Museum within the Learning and Engagement Team as their Secondary Humanities Co-ordinator. Without the valuable experience I gained from volunteering at The Egypt Centre I don’t think I would have had the confidence or the appropriate understanding in order to be successful in either job.
Volunteering for a smaller museum, like The Egypt Centre, provides an excellent foundation for anyone wanting to experience working in the cultural sector. While the operation as a whole may appear diminutive in comparison to the major workings of a larger institution like The British Museum, the service they provide is still very real for their visitors. The primary school children that attend The Egypt Centre to learn about mummification and the great Egyptian Empire will recall such an experience for a lifetime – they don’t care if The Egypt Centre has several galleries or if there is only one: what matters is the contact they have with those who represent the experience,  and for The Egypt Centre this is their volunteers.
During my interview for my position at The Manchester Museum my experience of volunteering at The Egypt Centre allowed me to talk about issues of conservation, the importance of public engagement and the rewards of giving a young mind the opportunity to learn within a museum environment. I had direct, practical experience to draw from and concrete examples of success to demonstrate my skills with. Yes, I could have gotten similar examples from any number of different volunteer programmes within much larger cultural institutions, but the joy of volunteering for The Egypt Centre was the distinct camaraderie between the few members of staff and the wealth and diversity of the volunteers there.
As a volunteer I felt I was an integral part of the fantastic work that was going on there – rather than just another face at another venue. There were multiple opportunities to get involved in a myriad of museum-related areas: from learning about responsible object-handling - the value of ‘real’ vs replica’ items - to understanding the type of experience and information individual visitors are looking for during their time within the galleries. I was able to apply the correct level of professional knowledge during my application and interview with The Manchester Museum that proved I understood the significance such experience had brought me.
All volunteer programmes are different. But I believe that the most valuable experiences can often be within those smaller, less well-known, intuitions that offer a service to their local community. In this way the experience of the volunteer is much broader, more personal and potentially a lot more rewarding than it might be in the corporate environment of a larger, business-focused environment where a volunteer is one of many.  I certainly wouldn’t change my three years experience as a volunteer for The Egypt Centre for anything: it gave me a significant insight and a keen understanding of the key relationship all museums depend on – the engagement between the objects and the visitor. Nowhere is this more evident than in those smaller, focused galleries of local museums such as The Egypt Centre.

Information on volunteering at the Egypt Centre

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