This is a guest post and interview by Ana Gomes.
I have recently spoken to Farah Shahabuddin, one of the volunteers of Coventry Transport Museum. Farah, who is interested and passionate about museums, has been supporting The Herbert and Coventry Transport Museum in a variety of settings, from administration to education offices. Below are the excerpts from our conversation.
Q: Why did you start volunteering at Coventry Transport Museum?
A: Well, my university studies did not go to plan and I had to take a break, so I wanted to do something useful with my time. I have always enjoyed coming to museums and galleries and the cultural aspects in society. By chance, last September I saw an opportunity to work as an Administration Assistant at The Herbert but it then turned out it to be here at Coventry Transport Museum, which was a happy accident.
I first started typing up competitive entries. The people here are so wonderful and welcoming, which then led me to have more experiences, which they offered and encouraged me towards.
Q: Tell me more about your role at Coventry Transport Museum.
A: So, my first role was Administration Assistant. I was part of the team typing up the competition entries for a Peugeot car last year.
After that I was introduced to the education officers and I have volunteered with them, helping them set up the classrooms, which then led to working a very special event day here at the museum, The 75th Blitz Commemoration. I sold the family packs especially created for this day, guided visitors and looked after the classrooms. Everyone, including myself, was dressed in costume and it was a really fun way to spend a Saturday!
I am now working with the Community Engagement Officer, Laura Musgrave, and that has been really varied as well, from conducting audience research to setting up. Recently I was very lucky and privileged to help display an exhibition with Laura; this involved collecting the objects, transporting them, storing the previous objects and a critical discussion of aesthetic factors so we could create the best possible display for the public. The exhibition showcases African Art and features a beautiful work of thread art by Edwin Aryee depicting musicians and eye catching carvings.
Q: Is this role somehow linked to your career aspirations?
A: I never planned to go into museums because it was more of a passion, my personal interest, but now having gained this experience, I am pursuing jobs in this sector. It was never the plan but now I do not want to leave.
Q: Have you volunteered anywhere else?
A: I volunteer at The Herbert for the Herbert Lates event and I am now helping with conservation there, working with a team on the Rootes project. Recently I joined another team that is recording oral interviews with people who were part of the Rootes Company. That’s about it for now, but there are always new opportunities.
Q: What aspect do you enjoy the most about volunteering at Coventry Transport Museum?
A: Well, for starters, it makes my life really easy in terms of location, because I live nearby and I am very lucky for that. Despite growing up nearby, I never realised what valuable institutions The Herbert and Coventry Transport Museum are here in Coventry.
There are many aspects that I enjoy here, the work is important and on top of that, coming here does not feel like work. It just feels like I come in and am able to pursue my interests and passions with the complete guidance and support of the team here. In addition, everyone is so patient with you when you don’t know something, they are very willing to help you gain the experience and teach you along the way. For example, Laura demonstrated to me how she arranged the data that we collected. So I think that is probably the aspect that I enjoy the most, learning.
Q: What impact do you think volunteering has in society?
A: I think volunteering is an absolutely essential attribute in society but it is undervalued because it is not paid work.
Also, it works not only to the benefits of the organisation but for the people as well, because as a volunteer the experience you get is completely irreplaceable. As this is not a paid job, there is less pressure here and you can be much more flexible with the time and that is a very nice position to be in, compared to the constraints you have if you are in a contracted job.