David Mee, our outgoing Secretary, reflects on his initial experiences of Sherborne Museum and how much has changed in recent years.
Having recently retired as the secretary of Sherborne Museum Association (retired? – well, not completely) I was asked if I would like to write this blog – but where to start? Having retired from working in NHS hospitals since 1962 and moving down to Sherborne, I noticed one day in 2007 a poster in the window of Sherborne Museum, asking for volunteer stewards. I thought that sounded quite appealing, and as I had previously enjoyed working with the general public, from neonates to centenarians and from Bognor Regis to Cleethorpes I applied and was immediately put on the steward’s desk, initially with a dear old lady who was about to retire. I was OK with the small shop as I had in my early days helped my father in his sweetshop and had worked as a relief assistant at Beale’s department store in Bournemouth during three years of student vacations. I knew how to operate cash registers such as the ubiquitous National (as used by Arkwright in Open all Hours) and how to use the Lamson Paragon vacuum tube system, which consisted of miles of metal pipes covering eight floors traversed at high speed by flying shuttles (also used by Arkwright in his Derbyshire cotton mill).
By contrast, things were much simpler in the museum shop, although the layout was a little dated. The counter was an ‘S’ shaped dark blue painted wooden structure with an inserted glass display area at one end. It was rather on the high side, and when one was sitting behind it on the crippled swivel chair provided, the steward’s head, neck and shoulders could be viewed by the visitor, but not much more. I went out and bought a secondhand blue patterned cushion from a charity shop, and it remained on that chair for many years after. I was very soon allocated a regular alternate Thursday morning session of 2 hours and that put me in contact with several other volunteers at the museum – the curator, chairman, treasurer, steward administrator and researchers. Unfortunately, the secretary of some 24 years had recently died, and during my first few weeks as a steward, I was asked first of all if I would take the minutes of the museum council meetings and later whether I would organise a lottery. I declined on both – not because I couldn’t do what was asked, but I preferred to act as a steward and I thought I could probably make things a little easier for all of us.
I suggested making changes to the way we recorded museum visitors and shop sales, and after obtaining approval, and a trial run, we reduced the usage of small brown envelopes from 60 per month to just 10, and halved the use of A4 paper. We do have a strong Green Policy at the museum, and re-cycle lots of paper and cardboard. We even use pencils made of recycled material with which we record our daily activities at the stewards’ desk. Yes, DESK! We have ditched the old counter and replaced it with a proper desk (and a new swivel chair).