Tag Archives: volunteering

Volunteering at BPMA

Fahema Begum writes about what it’s like to volunteer for us…

I studied History at university and was interested in pursuing a career within the heritage and archiving sector. I was curious to gain further insight and experience into this field and that is what attracted me to volunteer at BPMA. I have been volunteering with BPMA since April 2012 so I have been there over a year now! How quickly time has flown by! However my time here is nearing to an end as I have secured a job as an Archives Assistant at the Bank of England. The experience here has been invaluable and I have gained considerable knowledge and skills, which will help me in my new role.

I volunteer at the Royal Mail Archive in Freeling House and had previously assisted on a large project, repackaging and relabeling the postal slogan die collection in preparation for the move to the new Postal Museum site. This was my first time actually handling original objects which was quite exciting! It was fascinating to see what was written on a different slogan die (mainly advertising slogans) and learn interesting facts along the way. It was also great to find out that we had achieved repackaging over forty percent of the slogan die collection!

My current project involves auditing and re-packing objects also in preparation for the move to the new museum. Whilst undertaking this task, I was exposed to more of the collections including objects such as handstamps, uniforms, even trophies and awards for sports. Whilst working on both projects, I have learned new and valuable practical skills such as object handling and preservation/conservation skills as well as learning how to use the CALM collections database. This experience has reinforced my interest in the heritage sector and has equipped me with the relevant skills to acquire a job as an Archives Assistant.

Fahema at work in the Archive.

Fahema at work in the Archive.

Although I have been working mainly on the museum side, I have had the opportunity to talk to one of the many archivists who work at the BPMA; Anna provided me with a brief summary of the archiving system at BPMA. It is surprising how the cataloguing system differs between the museums and archives, and it was useful to gain an overview of the archive side of the organisation.

I think anyone passionate about history would find it interesting to volunteer at BPMA. Also if you are looking to pursue a career within the heritage sector, volunteering is an excellent opportunity to gain an understanding of what the day to day work entails, whilst also developing the relevant skills. The volunteering program offered here is well structured and flexible. Although you work on a specific project at any one time, the work is still tailored to your interests. I have Emma (curator) as a supervisor and she is super organised! She is really supportive and has given me the opportunity to experience, explore and be involved in different aspects of the museum side. She is also extremely approachable and has given me useful career advice.

I really enjoy looking at the many different objects found in the archives and learning about its history. It’s amazing how extensive and varied a collection BPMA has, and only a part of it is housed at Freeling House. What is really exciting and something I am very much looking forward to is the new museum, which will provide visitors access to these unique collections and to learn more about the history of the collection!

Congratulations Fahema on your new job – we’re sorry to lose you. See our website for information about how YOU can Volunteer at BPMA.

Stamps in Schools success

Yesterday, in an award ceremony held at the British Museum, our volunteer Stamps in Schools co-ordinator Erene Grieve became joint national winner of the Marsh Christian Trust “Volunteers for Museum Learning” award, 2013.

Erene receives her award.

Erene receives her award.

Erene has been running the Stamps in Schools project for the past seven years. Stamps in Schools workshops introduce pupils to the history of stamps, and the idea of starting their own stamp collection. Erene provides ‘stamp days’ in Primary schools which have been run throughout the UK, from Inverness to the Isle of Wight.

Erene running a workshop at Sherwood School.

Erene running a workshop at Sherwood School.

Erene won the award for the London region in May. At yesterday’s ceremony Erene met the other regional winners before the national winner was announced. The judges found it impossible to decide an overall winner so Erene shares her national prize with Nathan Lightowler of the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland.

Joanna Mackle, Deputy Director of the British Museum said:

Museums large and small are reliant on the contribution volunteers make to ensure the smooth and successful running of their organisation. The Marsh Awards recognise the vital work that volunteers do in museums across the country.

Upon receiving the award, Erene said:

There’s something magic about hearing a child say “Thank you that was brill”, or even “That was cool”, or even “This has been the best day of my life!” You don’t walk out of the school thinking, “I wish I’d got paid for that”. You go out thinking, “This is wonderful”.

We’d like to congratulate Erene and say thank you for her ongoing commitment to volunteering with the BPMA.

Erene with BPMA Director Adrian Steel.

Erene with BPMA Director Adrian Steel.

Visit our website to find out more about Stamps in Schools.

On the map, the History Pin map

Hello, I’m Nicola and I’ve been volunteering for the BPMA since the end of January. It has been such a fantastic experience for me so I wanted to write a little blog to share what I have been working on. Interestingly, I gained my volunteer position at the archives because my cousin had put out message on twitter asking about volunteer opportunities to which Martin Devereux, our digital content manager replied, so I am as grateful to her as to Martin and everybody else at the BPMA. I have been very lucky with this volunteer placement because it has allowed me to explore my two greatest passions in life, history and photography, in an area that I had been previously unfamiliar with, that of postal history.

Postman delivering mail to a large group of hop pickers, Kent, 1935. (POST 118/467)

Postman delivering mail to a large group of hop pickers, Kent, 1935. (POST 118/467)

When I first came to volunteer at the BPMA, Martin talked to me about a few different areas that I could potentially work on but I told him I wanted to do all of them. So I have spent the past few weeks scanning, cataloguing and rehousing glass plate negatives, tagging and creating labels for online photographs, researching a couple of mysterious Victorian albums and other general archiving tasks, including working with the CALM collections database. Alongside these more recent activities, I also dedicated my first few sessions to promoting the BPMA on History Pin. This website is a photographic archive which allows organisations to share their photograph collections with the public.

Each organisation has its own channel on the website where it can upload photographs and then attach them to Google’s map to show where the photograph was taken. Each photograph or ‘pin’ can then be overlayed on top of Google Street View, allowing the public to compare the location with the original photograph. This is enhanced with the sliding tool which changes the opaqueness of the photograph on top to reveal the Google image underneath; I had great fun playing with this!

The photographs that I uploaded from the postal heritage archives depict a variety of places and people ranging from a postman delivering mail at Dover Castle to a mail van parked next to Loch Lomond in Scotland. I uploaded photographs that I thought were either visually appealing or had an interesting subject matter (or both) and had great fun searching through the archives.

Mail van by Loch Lomond. (POST 118/134)

Mail van by Loch Lomond. (POST 118/134)

As well as these singular photographs I also created three collections of photographs connected to certain subjects and events. One contained images relating to transport in postal history, another was about the opening of the Mersey tunnel in 1934 and my favourite one was about delivering mail to the hop farms in Kent. I was very pleased to hear that the first photograph from this collection was made ‘pin of the day’ a few days after I uploaded it and appeared on the Historypin homepage.

Postman delivering mail to Dover Castle. The postman, standing in front of his mail van, hands mail to a soilder. A young boy stands next to the men, pointing at the postmans mail bag. 1935. (POST 118/421)

Postman delivering mail to Dover Castle. The postman, standing in front of his mail van, hands mail to a soilder. A young boy stands next to the men, pointing at the postmans mail bag. 1935. (POST 118/421)

It has been such a great experience to volunteer at the BPMA and I have learnt so much about archiving and all the different roles in an organisation such as this. It has definitely inspired me to consider archiving, especially if related to photography in my future career.

Join the BPMA on History Pin today!

Volunteer Celebration Event

Last Thursday we hosted our fourth annual BPMA’s Volunteer Celebration Event. The event is held as a small token of our gratitude to the wonderful and giving folk who kindly donate their time, knowledge and energy to assist us in our work.

This year’s roster is made up of 29 magnificent folk who have been providing invaluable assistance across a range of jobs, including:

  • Rehousing material in preparation for moving the archive to Calthorpe House
  • Surveying London war memorials and checking the accuracy of existing data- especially valuable given next year’s WW1 centenary
  • Updating the information in our databases with their own specialist knowledge
  • Aiding with condition checks of our textile collection
  • Cleaning, listing and rehousing papers from the Solicitor’s Office so that they can be safely moved and catalogued
  • Collating and analysing the results of an audience research project, so that we are better able to understand the reach of our work in general
  • Providing a watchful eye and compiling monthly reports on our Travelling Post Office exhibition at the Bressingham Steam Museum and Gardens in Norfolk
  • Managing the on-site shop at the Museum Store in Debden
  • Sorting and cataloguing material that has since become the POST 136: Parcel Services series
  • Exploring the stories behind our photographic collections and the events they document, and adding to our Historypin channel
  • Digitising, cataloguing and rehousing a series of glass plate negatives of portraits of Post Office officials from the 16th-20th century
  • Rehousing colour transparencies from the1960s to the 1990s and re-sorting items that have previously been misfiled or inaccurately described
  • Helping develop workshops for primary schools
  • Auditing and repacking the Museum Store
  • Assisting with the conservation of Mail Rail cars

This year’s event featured BPMA Director Dr Adrian Steel presenting our volunteers with a certificate of appreciation and gift bag. Some of those that attended are pictured below with Adrian.

Don Bell’s interest in vehicles is very handy when it comes to identifying boxes of miscellaneous vehicle parts! Before joining the audit project in September 2012, Don also volunteered with Conservator George Monger on the conservation of the Mail Rail Cars.

Don Bell with Adrian Steel.

Don Bell with Adrian Steel.

Flora Fyles is an MA Museum Studies student who was able to put her theoretical training into practice whilst assisting with a condition check of some of our textile collection, which sped up the overall process no end.

Flora Fyles with Adrian Steel.

Flora Fyles with Adrian Steel.

Tom Norgate acquires and mounts new philatelic material – this year he has created pages relating to iLSM Processed Mail and Post & Go.

Tom Norgate with Adrian Steel.

Tom Norgate with Adrian Steel.

Ana Paula Hirata Tanaka is a qualified architect, but this was the first time she had worked with architectural plans in a conservation context – approaching them as fragile items to be carefully, and minimally handled, rather than as ‘working’ drawings.

Ana Paula Hirata Tanaka  with Adrian Steel.

Ana Paula Hirata Tanaka with Adrian Steel.

We hope that those who were able to attend enjoyed themselves, and that everyone who has generously helped us out over the past year has an idea of how much they are appreciated.

We couldn’t do it without you!

– Deepa Sebastian, Team Support Officer

Visit our website to find out how to become a BPMA volunteer.

Volunteer Flora and the ‘box of doom’

My name is Flora, and I’m an MA Museum Studies student at the University of Leicester. Over April, I spent some time at BPMA, helping to audit and pack objects in preparation for the move.

Flora auditing and packing the museum collection.

Flora auditing and packing the museum collection.

I spent most of the time at Freeling House, delving into the archive downstairs. This included badges, ties, postcards, letters, publicity leaflets, and lots of other things. The postcards were particularly interesting, especially trying to make out the messages on the back of some of them. Less fun was counting a large number of duplicate badges for disposal – the total was 666 (as well as a small saxophone badge and a clip that looked as if it was from a pair of dungarees), so I think that definitely qualifies as a ‘box of doom’. We also found an old sign ‘In Case of Alarm of Fire’, with separate instructions for male and female employees (women were supposed to file out in pairs – I wonder what happened if there was an odd number?!).

Two days a week were spent out at the Museum Store in Debden, which is home to the larger (and often more unusual) objects. I can’t quite decide on my favourite; it’s a tie between the model of the HMS Queen Mary (complete with tiny moving lifeboats), parts of the Travelling Post Office (including a water boiler and food heater), or the Post Office ‘L’ Plates – I had no idea that the Post Office used to teach their own drivers.

Model of the HMS Queen Mary.

Model of the HMS Queen Mary.

One day involved packing lots of vehicle parts, helpfully listed as ‘assorted unknown parts’; luckily, another volunteer with an extensive knowledge of cars was on hand to help us identify what we were actually packing. There were definitely a few more challenges out in Debden – lots of oddly shaped objects that, just as you thought you’d finally wrapped them up, would burst back through the acid-free tissue paper and make a bid for freedom. I also got to dust a couple of post boxes and post vans which was fun – leading to complaints from my mum about my reluctance to dust at home.

I also spent two days down in the corner of the archive checking the old uniforms for signs of moth activity. There were a few false alarms (including a set of disintegrating shoulder pads in one of the jackets), but luckily, no signs of infestation (I did find one jacket with a few worn patches, but decided that moths probably haven’t yet developed the intelligence to eat in a completely straight line!). The range of uniforms hiding in the corner was astounding: I found Danish uniforms (both town and country, and summer and winter – clearly the Danes like their uniforms), as well as Canadian and Swiss ones. There were also Foreign Office uniforms, from when the General Post Office won the contract to dress some departments of the Civil Service as well as their own employees. It was amazing (and slightly terrifying) to be touching fabric that was over one hundred years old in some cases, but it was all remarkably well preserved. I also never realised quite how heavy overcoats were, especially the thick woollen ones.

Flora condition checking the uniform collection.

Flora condition checking the uniform collection.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time here, and it’s been a great introduction to the practical side of collections documentation and management (rule number one: the collections database CALM is anything but!). I’d also like to say a huge thank you to Emma and Sarah for putting up with me (and for the plentiful supply of tea, biscuits and occasional cake out at Debden!)

See our Volunteers page to find out about volunteering at BPMA.

Museum Store audit: objects, boxes and pink tape

As many of our readers may already know, our large object Museum Store in Essex holds many fascinating items in the BPMA’s collection, including items such as pillar boxes, telephone kiosks and vehicles. Over the past 6 months or so I have been working out at our store carrying out an audit of the collections, focussing mostly on those stored on the mobile shelving.

The BPMA Museum Store in Debden

The BPMA Museum Store in Debden

The audit of the material held at the store is a necessary exercise and a vital part of good collections management. As part of the audit, I have been systematically cross-checking items on the shelves with the listings on the BPMA’s collections database, checking that the recorded details and locations are correct.

Sarah unwrapping a Post Bus ticket machine for auditing and carefully re-packing the ticket machine ready for re-boxing

Sarah unwrapping a Post Bus ticket machine for auditing and carefully re-packing the ticket machine ready for re-boxing

At the same time I have been assessing the storage and packing of each item, replacing any packing materials which are no longer suitable (often due to age, which can mean they are no longer effectively protecting the object from the external environment). This can be a time-consuming task but planning for the long-term, sympathetic storage of an object means that the collection  can be kept stable and in the best condition for future audiences and researchers  to access and enjoy in years to come.

As you might imagine, the auditing and repacking project is no small undertaking so a methodical approach is essential – which is handy, because I’m rather fond of a good process! In summary, each box is given a unique ‘Mus’ number (printed on green labels) and following completion of the repacking , the database records for each object in that box are updated to include this new box reference. This allows a list to be produced of all the items found in a particular box, a copy of which is included with the contents. To provide a good visual marker, each box (or indeed large item) is tied with pink cotton tape to indicate that it has been audited and repacked.  If anyone had told me at the start of the project that I would find the sight of rows of shelves filled with pink tape heartening, I wouldn’t have believed them – but it’s true!

A view from inside the mobile shelving, showing shelves containing audited objects with lots of lovely pink tape….

A view from inside the mobile shelving, showing shelves containing audited objects with lots of lovely pink tape….

It is not possible for me to talk about the store audit without a special mention for two wonderful BPMA volunteers, Don and Barry who both give their time to assist with the project and have been invaluable, not least because they are a bit taller – I am rather vertically challenged – and can therefore help me reach the higher shelves! With our combined efforts we have recently reached our latest milestone of over 100 audited shelves.

‘And here’s some I did earlier…’ Audited items neatly packed and tied (with even more pink tape) ready to return to the racking.

‘And here’s some I did earlier…’ Audited items neatly packed and tied (with even more pink tape) ready to return to the racking.

Another very enjoyable element of the project is that during the audit I have been able to gather information on items being considered for display at the new postal museum at Calthorpe House which has been great – and provides an excellent excuse to follow up on research for an intriguing item.

There is still a lot of work to do as part of the audit, but much has been achieved in six months and the increasing number of shelves, stacked with boxes tied with pink tape continues to bring a smile to my face on a rainy Monday!

If you are interested in getting involved with this or similar work please contact Sarah Jenkins on sarah.jenkins@postalheritage.org.uk or call 020 8502 2673.

Sarah Jenkins – Curatorial Assistant

Mail Rail Trains Conservation Project

Our project to conserve two of the Mail Rail trains in our collection is now almost complete; the photographs accompanying this blog give some idea of the work done. Today we present an interview with one of the volunteers, Don Bell, who has helped complete this work and who has been trained up by George Monger, the conservator employed to do this work.

The 1930s train prior to the conservation work, showing lots of surface grease.

The 1930s train prior to the conservation work, showing lots of surface grease.

Why did you get involved with the BPMA as a volunteer?

I used to work for Royal Mail as a Delivery Office Manager (DOM) and originally became aware of the Museum when working as a DOM in Tottenham where the old Museum store used to be. I was asked to get some Posties together to pose with pillar boxes from the collection to promote the 2002 Pillar Box stamps issue.

As DOM at Winchmore Hill I also became involved in volunteering and charity work further, including the setting up of a local fundraising charity.

I have also always been interested in the museum and vehicles in particular.

Don Bell working on one of the train units.

Don Bell working on one of the train units.

What does your role as a volunteer involve?

Cleaning and preparing the Mail Rail vehicles and applying a layer of wax to the trains to act as a protective barrier. I also help care for few of the other vehicles in the collection supporting the work of the BPMA curators at the Museum Store.

The 1980s train is being worked on with assistance from Don Bell.

The 1980s train is being worked on with assistance from Don Bell.

Have you learnt anything particularly surprising or interesting?

It was surprising to see the different colours of paint underneath the top coat on the Mail Rail trains, these coming from different eras, including paintwork for the film Hudson Hawk on one of the trains. [Mail Rail trains were re-painted as underground Vatican mail trains for the film]

When you volunteer you go in different directions, I am interested in the vehicles and would rather get my hands dirty than volunteer in admin – with this project, anything I can learn about conservation is a plus.

George [The Conservator employed by BPMA on this project] opened my eyes – he explained that the covers over the electric units would have got very hot in the vehicles working life and the paint bubbled. My original instinct was to clean it all off but George explained that you should preserve what’s left – not everything has to be pristine but rather should reflect the vehicles as they were.

Detail of a break wheel of one of the trains after cleaning.

Detail of a break wheel of one of the trains after cleaning.

What is your involvement in the Mail Rail story?

I can remember helping out from time to time as overtime at the W1 Delivery Office, sometimes you got called down to help out and then would get roped into helping load the trains.

The 1930s train after the conservation work has taken place and a special conservation-approved Renaissance Wax has been applied to all surfaces to protect them and prevent further corrosion.

The 1930s train after the conservation work has taken place and a special conservation-approved Renaissance Wax has been applied to all surfaces to protect them and prevent further corrosion.

What is your favourite object?

All of the Post Office vehicles, having worked in deliveries for all of my working life starting as a Telegram Messenger and continuing for 40 years.

I think there is so much potential if you could take the vehicles out on the road! The Mobile Post Office would be great for fundraising and advertising the Museum.

A filmed record was made during the conservation process in the BPMA's Museum Store in Debden, Essex.

A filmed record was made during the conservation process in the BPMA’s Museum Store in Debden, Essex.

Interview by Claire English

The BPMA would like to thank The PRISM (Preservation of Industrial and Scientific Material) fund, administered by Arts Council England, and the AiM Pilgrim Trust Conservation Grant Scheme for kindly donating towards the Mail Rail conservation project.

If you are interested in volunteering for BPMA please visit the Volunteers page on our website for further information.