Twilight at the Museums- The Volunteer Experience

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This Daylight Explorer adores museums. So imagine my excitement when I saw a tweet from the University of Cambridge Museums asking for volunteers for their annual Twilight at the Museums event. I sent off an email, including a form containing my expression of interest, and got invited to a briefing at the Fitzwilliam along with all the other lovely volunteers. The turnout was great and we were given a brief talk by Susan Miller the Events Administrator for the University of Cambridge Museums. Here Susan gave us a bit of background to the event as well as some information that would be useful for the night. It was also lovely to get the opportunity to talk to other volunteers about how they heard about the event and their backgrounds. At the end of the briefing we were asked to indicate the preferred areas we would like to be placed. As I spend a lot of time at the Fitzwilliam, the MAA and the Botanical Gardens they were my top choices and I was delighted to receive an email a few days later asking me to volunteer at the Botanical Gardens! At all stages of the process the communication was superb and very clear.

In the week preceding the event I got an email from Sally Lee, the Education Officer for the Cambridge University Botanical Gardens, containing all the need to know information for the evening. Armed with a schedule and some handy background notes I counted down the days until the big event! The big day dawned and the evening arrived with…rain! At this point I was really pleased to be inside the glasshouses! Sally and the team at the Botanical Gardens had made the glasshouses look absolutely spectacular and I felt thrilled to be part of the evening. All the staff and volunteers were so friendly and the teacher in me was thrilled to receive a glow in the dark name badge! Yes it is the simple things! Here I have to also pause to say how wonderful the staff (and the volunteers who dressed up) looked as Victorian plant hunters. They made a superb effort and it really added to the atmosphere. I now have a hankering for copying the look myself…

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Visitors had been given a lovely card illustrated with a glasshouse to use to collect stamps as they hunted for different plants around the glasshouses.

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My first station was in the Oceanic Glasshouse to help guide the intrepid plant hunters find the Aeonium plant. I enjoyed sharing the facts I knew about the plant (e.g. it was from the Canary Islands) and lots of people were really interested in the rosette of overlapping leaves that really made it a striking plant to look at. After my shift of a few hours (including a quick break of coffee and biscuits, thanks Sally!) I bid farewell to the Aeonium and went off to my next post in the Arid Lands glasshouse and the Agave Salmiana. I actually ended up with a clipboard, chatting to people and taking email addresses so the Gardens could get feedback from people in the future. It was absolutely wonderful talking to people and I had so many interesting conversations. Everyone had had a wonderful evening and I felt very proud to have played a small part.

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So my experience as a volunteer is over but I have two things to end with.

  1. If you haven’t been to Twilight at the Museums as a visitor please go! All the different museums have so much to offer and it really is wonderful to see them with a different perspective!
  2. If you had been thinking of volunteering and weren’t sure, go for it! The team made the whole process so smooth from beginning to end and it will be something that stays with me for a long time. I will definitely be putting my name forward again next year!

I believe wholeheartedly in museums and what they can offer the young and old alike. Seeing people of all ages and from all backgrounds engaging with the museums as they did on Wednesday was wonderful to see and events like this help inspire the younger generation to visit these wonderful places on our doorstep.