Just before Christmas I was invited to an afternoon at Chippenham Museum to celebrate the contribution volunteers have made to the Museum over the past year.
I listened with great interest and a growing sense of wonder as Curator Melissa Barnett thanked all those who had given their time for free, speaking about all the work that had gone on throughout the year and the projects and events volunteers had been involved in.
Working with a small team of paid staff, the efforts of the volunteers are vital in creating an active and bustling community based Museum. They have a group of around 75 people who give their time to help in all areas, both front of house and behind the scenes. Amongst other things volunteers welcome visitors on the reception desk, carry out educational activities and workshops, answer enquiries, research and document the collections and work on special events. They also provide an important link with the local community, ensuring that the Museum provides what people in the town want.
As I reflected on the afternoon, it struck me that Chippenham isn’t the only museum in Wiltshire with a vibrant and hard-working group of volunteers. Having recently started working as Museum Officer for Wiltshire Council, I’ve been busy visiting many of the museums across the county and meeting the people who run them. Time and time again I’ve been mightily impressed by the levels of dedication, enthusiasm and expertise shown by the volunteers I’ve come across, including those here at Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre.
For the past year I have been based at the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre for my National Archives 'Transforming Archives' traineeship where I have been developing a community archive for the village of Lacock. It has been a fantastic opportunity to gain new skills and develop existing ones. These have included using Joomla (website software), training and managing volunteers, arranging events, advertising, interviewing residents, project management skills, amid many others. For me, the most exciting part of my traineeship was meeting the local residents of Lacock and others in the surrounding areas. The enthusiasm they held for their village, history and community was startling and was something that I have never experienced in the places that I have lived. The friendliness and willingness to welcome myself and my volunteers into their homes to share their memories, stories and photographs of Lacock was wonderful. It has been a privilege to be able to learn more about this small and close community, over the last year, which is sadly under threat from the continuing rise of tourism and the demands that this entails.
The Lacock Community Archive has collected fifty-two oral history interviews from those within Lacock and the surrounding areas concerning evacuees, American soldiers, Lacock School, fetes and fairs or Manor Farm (located in the village) which no longer exists. Memories have ranged from dressing up as a swine herdsman son at the Lacock Pageant of 1932 to delivering papers to the Abbey. The interviewees have ranged from teenagers in the village to those who have lived there for their entire lives and whose family goes back generations within the village. In addition to this, over five hundred copies of various photographs and documents have been collected from the community and uploaded to the Lacock website for everybody to view. These include photographs of sport teams, weddings, the old Working Men's Club and events such as the millennium procession. Hopefully, both the oral history interviews and collection of photographs will prove to be a useful historical resource and will continue being a means to share information about the village.
A fundamental part of the Lacock Community Archive project has been recording the memories of local residents through oral history interviews. Oral history is a fantastic method of discovering stories that have remained hidden or missed from traditional historical methods. These memories have ranged from hiding American soldiers from the Military Police in the basement of the Red Lion to Mrs Murray (local schoolteacher) who opened her front window curtains so the local children could watch their favourite television programmes. These vibrant and wonderful memories encapsulate a village community that is often overlooked by the vast number of tourists that flock to the Abbey.