Volunteers are really important to the Museum of London, and we’re thrilled to have recently been the first museum in London to have been awarded the Investing in Volunteers quality standard. We asked regular volunteer Claire Madge to tell us a little bit about her experience as a volunteer, and as a Londoner.
Describe a typical volunteering day at the Museum of London.
I normally volunteer one day a week for the Museum of London. I am a permanent Collection Care Volunteer, which means I get to work on lots of different projects across the 3 museum sites. One week I might be working on the Social and Working History Collection at the archive in Hackney, cleaning objects in the store. I have had my hands on everything from biscuit tins to shop signs! Some weeks we work on the photographic archives of Christina Broom and Henry Grant cleaning photos and improving storage conditions at the main site at the London Wall. There is also the opportunity to work at the Docklands site carrying out gallery cleaning. There is always the chance to get involved in other volunteering roles across the museum, helping with events and the late night programme. I also get to volunteer in the archaeological archive, which is the largest in the world, and an amazing repository of London’s history. As part of the ‘Day of Archaeology’, I helped run around the miles of shelving, sharing objects on Twitter. The outreach aspects of volunteering, sharing the history of London with visitors is one of the most enjoyable aspects of being a part of the Museum of London.
How long have you been volunteering at the museum?
I first came to volunteer with the museum in 2013 as part of their Volunteer Inclusion Project. That first project was 8 weeks but I have had such an amazing time that I have never been able to leave, and always find new ways to get involved and learn more about London. I also volunteer at my local museum in Bromley, I am on the accessibility panel at the Horniman Museum, and I am the Blogger in Residence at the RAF Museum in Hendon. Prior to all this volunteering I worked as a librarian at the London School of Economics. I have three children and quit work in 2012 when my daughter was diagnosed with autism. I have found the volunteering a lifeline that has given me space to be myself, whilst also dealing with the challenges that autism can sometimes bring. The staff at the museum have been fantastic in encouraging me to write about my volunteering experiences, and the last couple of years have been a whirlwind of exhibitions, volunteering and blogging.
Would you describe yourself as a Londoner?
Yes, definitely, I love London. I live on the outskirts of London in Bromley, it is green and quiet but a quick train ride takes you into the heart of the living, breathing city. You don’t have to be born in London to feel like a Londoner, there are so many different people and communities all living together that you can feel a part of the city where ever you come from.
What would be your perfect weekend in the city?
I would have to split the weekend into two separate days. Saturday would be a family day, a stroll along the Southbank taking in the smells and food of Borough Market, a moment’s quiet contemplation in the grounds of Southwark Cathedral, squeezed in among clanking trains and bustling crowds. Narrow streets of old London take you past the Golden Hinde, Sir Francis Drake’s ship, down Clink Street and on to a quick drink outside the Anchor where Samuel Pepys stood to watch London burn in the Great Fire of 1666. Under Southwark Bridge, the River is a constant companion as you stroll past the Globe Theatre and the Tate Modern, spoilt for choice as the kids can run up and down the Turbine Hall or over the wobbly bridge to St. Pauls. Perhaps time for another drink at the Founders Arms watching the world go by. Sunday, a romantic relaxing day, time to spend with my husband to do as little as possible: breakfast at The Modern Pantry in Clerkenwell, perhaps a trip to the Sir John Soane’s Museum, and if we are really lucky, a night’s stay in London with no kids waking us up at 6 in the morning.
What’s your favourite place in London?
Aside from the Museum of London (of course!) I am completely obsessed with the Shard, I have to take a picture from every time see it. I love the fact wherever you are in London you can look up and see it just peeping out.
Is there a character in London’s history or culture that you identify with?
A really hard question, I am not sure I identify with any in particular. I am not sure if that says something about how women and in particular mothers are portrayed in our culture and history. In recent years I have been impressed with Marjorie Scardino. I worked at the Financial Times while she was head of their parent group, Pearson. She was the first female chief executive of a FTSE 100 company and was appointed the first female director to the board of Twitter in 2013. She is a mother of 3 and I admire her achievements; I want my daughters to see women and mothers achieving in all walks of life, I want them to realise every avenue is open to them.
Which exhibit or gallery do you find the most interesting or inspiring?
This is an easy question for me. The staff at the Museum of London are always the most interesting and inspiring aspect of the museum for me. Their endless enthusiasm, passion and commitment are the main reason I enjoy volunteering with them. The objects that the museum have are amazing, but without the expertise to really bring out their history and interpret their stories they can lose something of their power. The galleries are fantastic but it is the team behind their inspiration, design and display that draws me in. They are great teachers and love to share, I have found volunteering with them an unforgettable opportunity, and it is one which I will never forget.