Volunteer, Sutton Hoo
Sue retired in 2018 and was looking for a fun way to help fill her time and meet new people. She has now found herself doing things she had never done before, and feels as though being at Sutton Hoo has re-energised her.
Why volunteer for the National Trust?
I retired late last year and thought I would be happy staying at home and filling my time but I soon realised that wasn’t going to be enough for me, so I started looked for something else to do. A friend strongly recommended volunteering for the National Trust at Sutton Hoo (she volunteers here too) so I thought I would give it a go. Applying was really easy, it’s a quick online form, followed by a simple interview and then you are ready to go. I applied specifically to Sutton Hoo because it is close to where I live and is accessible. I did worry the time commitments for volunteering were going to be more than I could spare so was amazed how flexible the opportunities are at Sutton Hoo. There are no big commitments, shifts are three hours, and you can choose your shifts to fit in with your lifestyle. The team at Sutton Hoo are extremely friendly, it’s a very welcoming happy atmosphere and everybody wants to be here. In my professional career I struggled to feel like I fitted in with the team and now I feel part of a team and didn’t realise how much I would really enjoy it.
What volunteer role(s) do you do?
I have two regular shifts, on Wednesdays I help in the High Hall exhibition, this role involves talking to people and talking about the artefacts in there, you learn an awful lot being in there. Then on Thursdays I do a shift in the shop, this role is entirely different to anything I have done before. As well as helping with stock takes, deliveries and pricing items I have learnt how to use the till, this makes me very useful in helping to cover lunchtimes or if someone is ill, I love being able to help so this is a lovely role.
I also help out when I can with the Roadshows (off site promotion of Sutton Hoo), I have been to various locations in Suffolk promoting Sutton Hoo and the National Trust, I love talking to people about Sutton Hoo and raising awareness of the site and all the amazing things you can see and do here. We take the replica items with us on the Roadshows, they generate a lot of interest and I really enjoy talking about those.
What do you feel you get out of volunteering and what do you give back?
Personally, I get an awful lot of job satisfaction out of volunteering, I didn’t think I would, there is a lot of myth about being a volunteer and how you might feel like the underdog but you are not, you are very much appreciated by everyone. Both by the team at Sutton Hoo and by the visitors.
Volunteering gives you an interest, I’m learning an awful lot about Sutton Hoo, about history, about the Anglo-Saxons and even life before the Anglo-Saxons, it’s such a rich history and I love learning about it. I’ve made lots of new friends and met lots of interesting people.
What I feel I give back – I feel I can now pass on the knowledge I have learnt from others. A lot of visitors don’t know much about Sutton Hoo when they arrive so I really enjoy being able to pass on my knowledge of the Anglo-Saxons to them. Sharing your knowledge of the site really helps improve the visitors experience, visitors always thank you for taking the time to talk to them, they really are very grateful. As a volunteer I really do feel appreciated and that I make a difference. As well as helping the public I also like to give my time helping new volunteers learn about the site, they shadow me and I like to help them learn and feel at ease, it’s a lovely feeling being able to help others.
What have you learnt about yourself since joining the team at Sutton Hoo?
I have learnt that I wasn’t ready to retire and that I needed to do something that made me feel important and allowed me to give something back. Volunteering is quite life changing, over my career I had a very stressful job and I lost a bit of my sparkle. I lost a bit of life I once had and became impatient but since I began volunteering that has all changed. I have got my sparkle back, I feel more energised and enthusiastic and have a lot more patience. I now want to do things again, and all of this impacts on my life outside of volunteering. My confidence has grown as I have been able to try new things, volunteering gives you opportunities you may never have had before and allows you to try different things – things you never thought you would try! I love being part of a team, I think when I retired I missed that the most, I missed the people, I needed the people. Now a days lots of people work from home and you end up becoming very isolated, I hated that. The social aspects of volunteering are brilliant, absolutely brilliant, I was told about it at my interview but didn’t believe just how many social opportunities there are to join in with.
What is your favourite spot/object at Sutton Hoo?
It has to be the helmet. I love talking to people about it, I have learnt so much about it and I think it is mesmerising. My favourite place on the site is the Royal Burial Ground. It’s hard to explain how I feel when I am up there but to me it feels very spiritual and now that I have learnt so much about the area I feel even more of a connection. Before I began volunteering, I had visited the site on numerous occasions and never really understood it but now I feel such a deep connection with the place. Once you have been on a tour to the Royal Burial Ground you definitely want to come back and learn more!
What advice would you give anyone thinking about volunteering?
For anyone interested in volunteering I would say apply and give it a go, until you have actually experienced it you can’t begin to imagine what it is like. My family are now bored to death of me talking about it at home, it’s the whole experience. I was worried about my lack of knowledge at first but I was assured that didn’t matter and I would soon pick it up and I have. The more time I spend here the more I want to learn so I spent the summer reading as much as I could about the site and it has really sparked an interest in me. I thought the expectations would be too high and I would have to put in lots of time that I haven’t got but that really isn’t the case either, you can cherry pick when you want to be in and that works brilliantly for me. It’s very flexible. I would love to be here more, I would be in every day if I could and do a variety of roles. Volunteering is a really rich experience, there is such a wide variety of roles available at Sutton Hoo – I would love to be more involved if I had the time! So my advice to anyone thinking about volunteering is definitely give it a go, you won’t regret it. I know I certainly haven’t!