Engage Volunteer, lawyer, mother, and now MA student, Gemma tells us about how volunteering with the Horniman has taken her back to university.
Ever since we moved into the area, about 10 years ago now, I’ve always loved the Horniman – the walrus, the music gallery and, as a sleep-deprived new parent, Busy Bees and the coffee in the café. I started volunteering largely because - with my youngest son starting school - it was getting harder for me to think of legitimate reasons to hang around the place. Joining the Engage volunteer team soon solved that.
The Engage team runs object handling on the engage trolley and welcomes visitors to the Butterfly House and Animal Walk. Very quickly, I went from being the harassed parent with the dinosaur-obsessed child on the one side of the engage trolley to being the well-informed volunteer on the other. Little did I know when I first signed up that Engage was just the start of my journey into the museum world.
Gemma at London Volunteers in Museums Awards ceremony 2017 at City Hall. From left: fellow Family Learning Volunteer Marisa, Community Learning Assistant Ewen, and Gemma
Within a couple of months of starting with Engage, I also began volunteering with the Family team – putting my experience with nursery rhymes and the under 5s to good use by helping with the Busy Bees session each Tuesday.
The more I dug into what went on at the Horniman, the more I uncovered and the more I wanted to be involved. I helped the Community team with the Crossing Borders event for refugees. I helped design new object boxes and a banner for the new gallery. I tagged along with the Education team while they presented school sessions on evolution and I chatted to Kate, Sophie, and Rhiannon in turn about what was involved in managing the volunteers.
Still, I felt I’d only scratched the surface. There was much more to know, so I began to look into courses and other volunteering opportunities. Time and again, there was the Horniman.
I did a free, short online course with Futurelearn and the University of Leicester, and there was the Horniman acting as an example of how to make the best use of museum objects. I did some reading about “Museums in Britain”. There was the Horniman as one of the prime examples of Victorian museums for the general public.
Eventually, I secured a place to study Museums, Galleries and Contemporary Culture on an MA at Westminster. Unfortunately, juggling the course, my day job as a lawyer and my childcare responsibilities, has meant that I’ve had to cut back on my “hanging around at the Horniman” time, but even though I can’t come in as often as I used to, the Horniman is always there.
It’s there in the books I study from, through links with my fellow students and we are all well known for raising the museum as our go-to example of best practice in seminars. On my first course this term, I’ve got a museum visit - it’s to the Horniman. Thank you to the Horniman Museum for being an inspiration, an example, and an education.