Meet our volunteers… Gill, Lorraine and Bill

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: To be helpful, and it gets me out of the house.

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.

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!

Bill: Meeting crazy ‘arty’ people!

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! 

A capital in the Conway crowdsourced metadata entry project on Zooniverse: World Architecture Unlocked.

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.

Bevin Court Stairs. CON_B04266_F001_022. The Conway Library.

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 83 and try to do as little as possible (some would say “no change there then”). In a past life, I have learned Russian (during National Service in the RAF) – mostly forgotten in the intervening 60 odd years. At school I learned Scholarship level French and German as well as Spanish. I’ve worked at GCHQ and the Home Office (in the since- renamed Royal Prerogative section) and after retirement managed volunteers at St Mary’s Hospital, Paddington. I follow Chelsea Football Club. I like to travel and use my camera.

The Conway items as they appear on Zooniverse’s World Architecture Unlocked. Gill and other volunteers who joined during the lockdown have only accessed the items in digital form.

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: I wasn’t sure what to expect when I joined up but it has introduced me to a different “field” and increased my interest in photography. Meeting other people is normally great fun.

Bill examining a Conway box at the Courtauld Institute of Art.

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.

One of Lorraine’s contributions to Art Club.

One of Lorraine’s contributions to Art Club.

Artwork by Lorraine Stoker.