How volunteers help us care for our collections
With over one million collection items to look after at over 200 historic places, we have our work cut out. We wouldn’t be able to do it without our dedicated volunteers.
Every year during Volunteers' Week we celebrate the amazing work our volunteers do. Sadly, this year we cannot see our volunteers in person, but we can still thank them for the work they’ve done.
From our volunteer room stewards, who help bring the stories of our places to life for our visitors, to archive and conservation volunteers, who help to care for and catalogue our collections, our volunteers do some incredible work. We look forward to welcoming them back soon.
Our volunteers' favourite collection items
George, the Rocking horse
For Carol, who volunteers at Dunham Massey, Cheshire, the rocking horse in the Nursery invokes special family memories of fun and laughter.
Lyme Park’s carvings
Michael volunteers at Lyme Park, Cheshire. He particularly admires the intricate carvings in the Saloon. They are thought to have been the work of renowned carver Grinling Gibbons.
Mount Stewart’s tea service
Marion, who volunteers at Mount Stewart, Northern Ireland, is particularly fond of this 43-piece Meissen tea service. Each cup and saucer is painted with a different flower.
Dunham Massey's state bed
It’s the diversity of Dunham Massey’s collection that appeals to conservation volunteer Caroline. In her words, ‘The house itself has many rooms packed with items from furniture to foot baths’.
Pictures of the past
John has enjoyed helping to digitise Mount Stewart's photographic archive. Many of the images were taken by Theresa, 6th Marchioness of Londonderry and her younger son, Reginald.
" Since volunteering there I’ve come to love the wonderful old house and getting up close and personal with some of the objects in the collection."
We have several ongoing oral history projects, including at Rainham Hall in London, Croome in Worcestershire and Quarry Bank, Cheshire. Volunteers help to interview and record the memories of local people and those with a connection to the places we look after. One of the largest of these is at Knole in Kent. Veronica has been volunteering with the project since it began:
‘I have been involved with Knole's oral history project from its inception in 2011. Since that year, I have interviewed a range of people connected to Knole from as early as the first half of the 20th century, through to almost all the Inspired by Knole Project people from 2013 to 2019. I continue to interview, transcribe and edit audio excerpts for our website and I feel valued in contributing to making Knole's archive the largest such collection in the whole of the Trust.’
Picture: Rainham Hall oral history volunteers practising using equipment and interviewing techniques
" We love the surroundings of the property, the long and fascinating history and the amazing people we work with. "
Be your own photography detective
If you feel inspired by the achievements of our volunteers at Mount Stewart, why not see what you can discover about your own photographs? As Catherine Troiano, Photography Curator, explains, working out where and when photographs were taken is possible through a number of simple sleuthing techniques.
1. If a photograph includes people, their clothing can provide helpful clues to discerning when the photo was taken. You can compare accessories or clothing styles from pictures with encyclopaedic fashion listings, such as those available on the University of Vermont’s website.
2. Identifying photographic processes using online resources, such as Graphic Atlas, is another helpful route. Many processes, such as hand-applied embellishments, were introduced or were popular at specific periods.
3. Maps and topographical resources can be used to locate places in pictures. These can then act as starting points towards local records offices, which could help identify unknown people or makers.
4. Don’t be shy to call upon opinions services or expert advice offered by your local museums, galleries and auction houses.
Picture: The clothing, cart and building are all clues to the date and location of this picture. The building still exists – it is now the Barn Restaurant at Cotehele.
Volunteer tips on caring for your treasures
Cleaning precious objects
Use the right cleaning material for the object you’re cleaning. Use soft pony hair brushes for metals, glass and porcelain, and hog’s hair brushes for plain wood. Glass can also be cleaned with white vinegar.
Handle with care
To avoid damage, always handle things very carefully – they may be more fragile than they look. Ensure your hands are clean and that you’re not wearing any rings or bracelets that could snag.
Keep a record
Always note events, names, places and dates (in pencil) on the back of your photographs and record the history of objects you have at home for those who follow.
The impact of the coronavirus outbreak (COVID-19) on the National Trust resulted in the closure of our places, and now our attention is turning to re-opening safely for staff, volunteers and visitors.
When we're ready to involve new volunteers, we'll promote volunteering opportunities here on our website. Hopefully we'll have a volunteering role that will be just right for you.