Hello, I’m Rhiannon Watkinson the new Assistant Volunteer Coordinator here at MERL. Having been in the post a little over a month now, and no longer getting quite so lost in the maze that is the museum, it seems time to introduce myself.
I’m a Reading local and have just returned to the area after completing a Masters degree in Nineteenth Century Studies in London and am loving working in museum that I was taken to as a child. I have previously worked at The Florence Nightingale Museum in Lambeth where I was involved in the presentation of an art installation entitled ‘And the Band Played On…’ which was focused around waxworks of wounded soldiers. I also volunteer for the National Trust as a room guide at Grey’s Court so know first-hand the joys, and unfortunately sometimes issues, that volunteers face.
The best way to describe my job is to tell you all the things I most enjoy about it which centres around the different groups of people I get to work with. The best thing about working as a volunteer coordinator is the sheer variety in my day! Rob and I are responsible for not only MERL volunteers but those from the other University of Reading collections; such as the Ure Museum and the Cole Museum to name just two. I am already involved in training tour guides for the Cole Museum which is one of my favourite parts of the week; not least because I’m learning so many weird and wonderful facts about the animals on display there. For example, I bet you didn’t know that Giant Spider crabs have skeletons of such breadth that they would collapse if they tried to walk on land!
Another volunteer group that I am enjoying working with are the Swing Riot group. During my time here I have been to several rehearsals of their self-penned play about the Berkshire Swing Riots, even stepping into a role when required! I was thrilled to get to see the play in its full glory with props and costumes (my favourite being an especially fetching knitted judges wig) when they performed recently at Reading Library. It is great that volunteers are still getting the word out about our local rural history even though the museum is closed. I’m also looking into us staging more performances of the play so keep a look out for that in the near future.
Having student volunteers from the University of Reading is extremely important for the museum and having been a student myself not so long ago I am really keen to give them the best experience possible. Some new student volunteers are helping with the Astor Project which will allow people to digitally search for items from Nancy Astor’s archive that we have here at MERL. As well the volunteers work being hugely useful the snippets of information thrown up through Nancy Astor’s correspondence are fascinating. We’ve seen letters asking for everything from support for the Tasmanian Temperance Society, requests to open village bazaars and correspondence about a meeting ominously entitled ‘Moral Hygiene’.
I’m really looking forward to meeting even more volunteers over the coming weeks and enjoying even more of the variety that my job has to offer. Finally, a big thanks to everyone, staff and volunteers, for being immensely welcoming and making me feel at home at MERL so quickly.