Well, the day had finally come – the day we all long for, wish for, can’t wait for – I RETIRED! I finally left the company I had worked for after 38 years. Now what? Suddenly the world seemed a scary place and I felt out of my comfort zone. All the plans I had before I retired disappeared from my mind – a total blank. Panic. This won’t do, so I sat down and thought-what do I like to do. My first thought was – visit art galleries and museums. I love going to London to explore the galleries there, but visiting London every week was just not an option. I remembered Manchester Art Gallery – I hadn’t been there since I was at college in the 1970s. I had a quick look on the website and took myself off to Manchester on a warm, sunny day in May 2014. My mission was to find the Canaletto’s – my favourite artist. I can look at his paintings and see something different every time – seeing them fills me with a feeling of well-being. So, I now had a plan! I walked into the formidable entrance and immediately fell in love with what I saw. I wandered around and loved the way the gallery flowed – it was wonderful. The atmosphere, the friendliness. I was hooked. I came home – feeling more positive and motivated (yes, I did see the Canaletto’s).
I planned to go back and looked at the website more closely for more information. I noticed an article saying if anyone was interested in volunteering , to get in touch. I immediately did. A couple of months later I received an email asking if anyone was interested in manning a kiosk for Friends to join the gallery. I signed up for this. I was called in for a chat and met Katie and Meg who made me feel very welcome. I met a few other volunteers who had also signed up. The morning training session was friendly and chatty, yet informative and helpful. I spent the next 5 months manning the kiosk. We would give as much or as little time as we wanted – no pressure at all. I established a weekly routine – come to the gallery, had morning coffee and cake in the lovely cafe – do my stint on the kiosk for 2 or 3 hours – have lunch in the cafe and then go home. I met some lovely visitors – chatting to them, giving them advice. Found out some interesting facts about artworks or other galleries. Each week was enjoyable and in many ways rewarding.
Sadly, this ended and I stopped coming. Plenty of volunteering opportunities came up though, then one day an opportunity came up for an archivist. Although not trained, I had spent the last years of my working life as the company archivist. I applied, came for an ‘interview’ with Hannah, a really friendly curator, got the position and haven’t looked back since.
The archive is tucked away in the basement of the gallery – but it’s become my haven. A small group of us are just listing what is in there to begin with, but there are treasures to be unearthed. I have come across artists I have never heard of. I am discovering the wealth of artistic talent Manchester had. Many weeks, I leave the archive with names of other Manchester artists to research – Emmanuel Levy, Mid-Day Societies. The research I do is not for the benefit of the gallery – it’s for my own benefit. I am fascinated to find out more and feel I am learning all the time.
Personally, I found becoming a volunteer, a most pleasant experience. It is fun, informative and rewarding. I feel a sense of pride to be part of the gallery – giving something back.
Visiting the gallery gave me the motivation to move on from work – and definitely gives me something to look forward to each week.
There are ‘perks’ to be had too. You get invited to attend tours, exhibitions, training sessions and social events. A chance to mingle with other like-minded volunteers and staff.
I actually look forward to a future in volunteering at Manchester Art Gallery – in whatever role comes along.
P.S The Canaletto’s are currently not in the gallery, out on loan I believe, so now I get to focus on other beautiful paintings instead – widening my horizons.
Eve Courtney, Archive volunteer.
If you’re interested in becoming a volunteer visit our website and fill in the form. We’ll get into touch when the next opportunity comes up.