With all the talk in my last post about what exactly middle-age is – and what it’s not – I wanted to tell you about my work as a National Trust volunteer…
It seems to be a natural career progression for people who were teachers – at some point we become National Trust room guides (other heritage charities are available). I don’t know why – probably the same urge to tell people stuff that got us into teaching in the first place.
My first memory of National Trust room guides was as a child, being taken around Stately Homes by my parents. The guides were invariably redoubtable ladies of a certain age, in tweeds and sensible shoes.
I now volunteer one day a week as a room guide with the National Trust. No tweed in sight, but sensible shoes are essential (no stilettoes allowed on account of the wooden floors, and there’s a lot of standing). Did I say one day a week? Ha!!
I started as a room guide. I’m now what they call a ‘Day Leader’ – basically I supervise a team of other volunteer room guides. In costume – that’s the best bit!!
But my role has increased and expanded during the 3-and-a-bit years I’ve been there – on top of the room guiding (did I mention we’re in costume??), I do guided tours (in costume!!!) and conservation cleaning; I make butter and gingerbread (in – you’ve guessed it – costume); I proofread for the national ‘myvolunteering’ newsletter; I’m one of the Easter Bunny’s little helpers (I have my own ears); I’m a member of various groups involved with the future development of the property, and we’ve been re-writing the information that we keep in folders in each room (that bit isn’t in costume, sadly).
I’m sure I’ve forgotten some, but you get the picture – it’s become a big part of my life since I made that first tentative phone call back in February 2016.
The great thing is that you can do as much or as little as you want – once you’re on the system, the emails start coming. Does anyone want to help with a craft session, or in the garden, or setting up for a wedding, or in the carpark, or in Bunny Burrow for the Easter Egg hunt, or conservation cleaning, or… and the list goes on. No-one thinks any the worse of you if you don’t want to do these extras – but if you do, you really are appreciated. It’s really really nice to have someone say thank you at the end of the day.
I love it. It ticks all the boxes that I needed to have ticked – it’s a job that uses my brain, I get to meet lots of interesting people (visitors, staff, other volunteers), it’s flexible, and for me it has most definitely expanded to fit the space available. And I have to confess it still gives me a bit of a kick to be ‘behind the scenes’ – to be in the House before it opens, or after we’ve closed, to know what lies behind the door marked ‘Private’, to have a say in how the guides are written, what stories we tell and how we tell them.
I never get tired of turning in from the main road, through the gates, with the House and the duck pond in front and the barns to the side. It’s a view that hasn’t changed since the 17th century, but it’s different every time – I’ve seen the pond covered in ice, the trees with no leaves, snow on the ground, the daffodils out, drizzle and baking sunshine.
And the ducklings!! At this time of the year, it’s all about the ducklings. Some years they don’t all survive. This year, we’ve had two broods – one started with 15 (15!!!) and we now have eight strapping teenage ducks. The other brood started out at five, and so far they’re all still with us. We have a heron, which explains the slow reduction in the duckling population. But we haven’t lost as many as in other years – so now I’m worried about the heron!! It’s emotional.
And now I’ve gone and got myself a job. It’s just a casual job, so I can choose when I work (up to a point – the point being that I need the money so will be working as many days as I possibly can). As I’m seeing it as a step on the road to full-time work I have to accept that I won’t be able to continue volunteering, at least not to the extent that I currently do. The paid work has to come first. Like I said – it’s emotional.
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