Volunteering at the Herbert Art Gallery – OurWarwick

Volunteering at the Herbert Art Gallery

In the midst of the chaos of Freshers’ Week, between the socs fair, the sports fair, the late nights and painful mornings, an event that is often overlooked is the Warwick Volunteers Fair. Usually held in the Rootes Panorama Suite, around 50 different external and university lead Volunteer projects will set up stalls, explaining how anyone can get involved with the various volunteering opportunities around the university. From work with refugees, ecological conservation, language programs in schools and helping the elderly use their phones, there is a lot to choose from.

Having dabbled in some conservation with the Tocil Wood Conservation Trust in my first year (highly recommended to anyone with a free Saturday who enjoys a good bonfire) as well as, of course, my foray into running a community centre for the elderly in Colombia, I wanted to try something different this year, and found myself applying for a role as an Digital Archival Assistant in the Coventry Archives, situated in the Herbert Art Gallery. Due to not really liking children, quite a lot of the volunteering opportunities did not appeal to me, as they were based in schools, therefore I was drawn to working in the Archives.

Despite having no technological background, and an embarrassingly small knowledge of Coventry’s history, I found myself working on my first project: scanning the various contents of the city’s archives and uploading their metadata onto a massive database in order to create an online portal for the world to view come 2021, when Coventry is the UK’s City of Culture! It was really special to contribute to this campaign, and learning how to use massive scanners and really fancy cameras was quite exciting, even if the work was occasionally repetitive.

Scanning a book from 1892 which featured every Shop/ Business that operated on Leamington’s parade

Not only was I able to learn so much more about Coventry, and its pre-Luftwaffe appearance, I met some very interesting people and was able to see the museum in my breaks. 

After Christmas, my first project had finished, and I was able to join a local Photo Mining company and help them scan amateur photos and slides. Based in their office as well as the Museum, it meant I got to work in the Archives, as well as the restoration room, meaning I could take some looks at the geniuses working behind the scenes in the Museum to restore original art and sculptures, ready for the new exhibitions. 

Photo mining involves taking “lost” images from various family photo albums, city archives, and slides to tell stories and new, untold sides of history. From our mass of slides, my project centred on the construction of the various small towns around Coventry in the 1950s and 1960s, such as Bell Park, and of course, Canley.  The idea is, someone will see these images brought back to life, and memories will be triggered like ‘I had that exact coat,’ ‘I remember that Cafe had a green sign instead of a blue one,’ and the classic ‘that’s my Nan!’ In this way, a more personal, human-based history of Coventry can be told as a result of finding the hidden treasures in lost photos.

Scanning scanning scanning 

Not only will these scanned images be used as part of the 2021 Coventry City of Culture celebration, but will also form part of future digital exhibitions in galleries and museums. 

Not only was this a wonderful way to get involved in Coventry city life, meet really eccentric and fascinating people (who do amazing things at the museum and in Coventry) and learn so much more about this city, but it was really incredible to learn the technological side of it. Having never really used proper cameras before, learning about adjusting images in photoshop was exciting, and something different to the grammar I study everyday!

Whilst my time at the archives has come to an end this year (thanks to an increasingly busy workload…) I would really recommend everyone to check out what they can do with Warwick Volunteers, in whatever project, be it the archives, or working with Guide Dogs.


Regardless of what stage we are in the year, and your background, there are always so many projects to choose from!

I would also recommend to all Warwick students to check out the Herbert Art Gallery, as their exhibitions on Coventry from the Medieval Ages to Modern Day, and Lady Godiva are really excellent. It is also free and the 12 bus stops right outside!


Photo credits for the cover image: https://www.enjoycoventry.com/news/article/8211/The-Herbert-Art-Gallery-amp-Museum/

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