How volunteers help us care for our collections

Volunteers cleaning books in Sudbury's library

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.

Meet our volunteers

Our volunteers' favourite collection items

" 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."
- Carol, conservation volunteer at Dunham Massey
How our volunteers have been helping us

Digging into history

Discover how a team of volunteers helped us to excavate the Second World War tunnels at Fan Bay Deep Shelter, Kent, and get the shelter open to the public. It was one of our biggest volunteer projects and took over 3,000 volunteer hours.

Writing history

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. "
- Donna and Michael, conservation volunteers at Lyme Park
The volunteer group research the Londonderry papers at PRONI

Some volunteer detective work at Mount Stewart 

John and a group of fellow volunteers at Mount Stewart, Northern Ireland, did some detective work using Mount Stewart’s photographic collection and delving into historical records. They've managed to shed some light on the 135-year-old mystery of the disappearance of Lady Londonderry’s yacht, along with all those on board, on 11 April 1985.

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

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.