Read by Gill Stoker, Celia Cockburn, and Bill Bryant. Edited by Christopher Bean.
It’s Volunteers’ Week in the UK this week and we wanted to take this opportunity to celebrate our fantastic Digitisation Volunteers. Every day last week we have shared their stories and thoughts in our Meet our volunteers series – we hope you enjoyed meeting them!
Why I volunteer…
Gill: I’ve only recently joined the Courtauld volunteers, in mid-May – just by chance I came across details of the Open Courtauld Hour webinars on Zoom, and enjoyed watching them. In the one on 14 May I heard about the digitisation project, saw a photo of a big group of happy volunteers, and realised that it was exactly what I’ve been looking for!
Lorraine: It’s so nice to be retired and to have time to do what I want. Learning is what drives me to volunteer – nothing altruistic I’m afraid (except the Year 13 student support in a local school).
Bill: It’s always good to be part of a worthwhile project involving teamwork. During Covid the weekly Zoom meetings are the only way I have of keeping within touching distance of the outside world – the Art Club has given me an outlet for whatever creative talent I may have by allowing me to submit some of my photographs.
What I enjoy most about volunteering…
Gill: Courtauld volunteers are really well looked after by the wonderful members of staff, who make sure we’re well supplied with interesting work to suit our skills and knowledge. It was a bit of a learning curve for me at first, as it involved getting set up with various bits of new (to me) technology, such as Zooniverse and Slack. Fortunately, I’ve already been using Zoom quite a lot since late March, and it’s been fun to take part in a number of video conferencing sessions, meeting the staff and other volunteers to discuss aspects of the digitisation work, or just for a social chat to share recommended books, TV programmes, etc. I’m finding the remote working very flexible – there are different aspects to choose from, so it’s possible to dot around from one task to another for the sake of variety, or focus on one longer task, depending on how you’re feeling.
Bill: I have no background in the Arts but the Art Market and how it works has always fascinated me. Volunteering at the Courtauld has enabled me to meet talented ‘arty’ people!
Lorraine: It’s the whole package really… the journey to and from the Aldwych, the various options available when in the Courtauld, the surprises when cataloguing or digitising, etc. The opportunity to research your own interests within the collection. I particularly enjoyed transcribing Anthony Kersting’s ledgers and his terrible handwriting!
A favourite photo or moment?
Gill: I’ve been captioning a lot of Canterbury Cathedral images via Zooniverse – lots of different styles of column/capital. There was a lovely funny capital of a man with what looked like two donkeys on either side of him. Obviously that particular stone carver had a good sense of humour!
Lorraine: The London boxes are fascinating – so much has been lost! I always enjoy photographs of modernist architecture (read Lorraine’s blog post here!): for instance, this image of the staircase in Bevin Court, Finsbury.
What do you do when not volunteering?
Gill: I teach from home (mostly English as a Foreign Language), and I also work part-time for a picture library, where I do a lot of work with pictures from different periods in history and from different countries all around the world. My work involves researching the images, then captioning and keywording them. I’ve been on furlough from the picture library since 1 April, and when I discovered that the Courtauld has a team of volunteers doing similar work, I got in touch straight away!
Lorraine: After 38 years of teaching, volunteering at the Courtauld reignited my interest in the History of Art and as a result, I recently completed an MA in History of Art and Photography. I’m now seriously considering a PhD but… who knows… do I have the time!? I also volunteer at the Tate archives and support year 13 students in a local school. When I am not researching or reading, I am a life-long football supporter and an avid Star Trek/Picard fan. I’m also an animal rescue fanatic – bears especially but all animals. I live South of the river with a long-suffering partner/husband and a cat.
Bill: I’m an old chap – that is pre-war vintage. I was born and bred in London, and save for time in Cheltenham have lived here all my life. I was a Civil Servant – first at GCHQ (having learned Russian during my National Service in the RAF) and then at the Home Office where I worked in the Royal Prerogative Section (dealing with criminal cases which had been through all the legal processes up to and including Appeal but where the Appellant was able to produce relevant and compelling new evidence which had not been before the Courts). After retirement I worked as a volunteer at The Cardinal Hume Centre – teaching English mainly to refugees; then as a volunteer at St Mary’s Hospital and after a few years taking over the role of Voluntary Services Manager there. I follow Chelsea Football Club and like using my camera.
What would you say to someone who wasn’t sure whether volunteering is for them?
Gill: Just give it a try – there’s nothing to lose, lots of support is available, and everyone is really friendly.
Lorraine: You have nothing to lose and everything to gain… new skills, historical and photographic knowledge, and in many respects a greater understanding of what has been before. Become immersed in the vast range of images, from London in the 1950s and the lost English Country Houses to European cathedrals and the Middle East Mosques and Coptic Churches.
Bill: Meeting new people is normally great fun. Give it a try! What have you got to lose?
Volunteering during lockdown
Gill: Once my furlough period comes to an end and I can hopefully go back to work, I’d still like to continue as a Courtauld volunteer – I’m looking forward to visiting the Courtauld building and meeting people face-to-face when the time is right!
Bill: I live on my own and the interaction with others on the project during this stressful time has proved important to me in keeping a sense of perspective.