Hampshire Cultural Trust has over 400 volunteers who work hard throughout the year, championing our venues and collections while creating a positive, welcoming and educational experience for our visitors when our venues are open to the public.
This week, Allen Gallery volunteer, Sheila John tells us about her role as a front of house volunteer at the Allen Gallery in Alton.
I have been a volunteer at the Allen Gallery since July, 2011 and with Hampshire Cultural Trust since its inauguration. My main volunteering job is front of house for one day a week. This involves welcoming visitors, serving them in the café and shop, answering their questions as far as I am able and generally keeping the venue clean and tidy.
Every school holiday a colleague and I produce a themed children’s trail and activity pack. In the past, I have also organised monthly talks with guest speakers and some summer events, in particular, the popular Music in the Gallery Garden Day.
I love so many aspects of the Allen Gallery – the higgledy-piggledy building, part of which is grade 2 listed, the changing exhibitions - especially the annual exhibition of paintings by WH Allen, after whom the gallery is named, the inviting shop, so ably maintained by a fellow volunteer, and the café, with its delicious selection of home-made cakes.
Something really special is the garden, also maintained by a group of dedicated volunteers and which many of our visitors call 'a hidden gem'. It is beautiful all year round but in the summer months, when visitors can enjoy their refreshments in the outside seating area, it really comes in to its own; a veritable oasis of peace and quiet in the centre of the town.
My favourite part of the gallery has to be the wonderful collection of ceramics. It is acknowledged to be of national and international importance and contains pieces representative of a wide range of different periods and styles, including world-famous potters such as Bernard Leach, Lucie Rie, Eric Ravilious and William de Morgan. We also have a bronze bust, ‘Dolores’ by Jacob Epstein.
Recently I have been involved with a small group of volunteers in cleaning and auditing the collection. It is a great honour to be allowed to handle such priceless, irreplaceable items. We needed special training by Hampshire Cultural Trust’s conservators but are now able to maintain the collection ourselves. It’s going to take a very long time to fully audit the collection, but I find it incredibly satisfying.
My favourite volunteering moment? I’m thrilled every time a visitor tells me how much they have enjoyed their visit and how they appreciate any of the exhibitions. But the pinnacle has to be the visitor who told me that our ceramics collection was the best he’d ever seen!
Do I recommend volunteering? - yes! For anyone with a few spare hours a week or even occasionally, it’s a very rewarding thing to do. We are a friendly, welcoming group of people who support and help each other and newcomers alike. You don’t need to know anything about art or history, just to be willing to learn as we are well trained in the basics of the job and easily pick up further information as we go along.