The Whitworth – a place where we belong and GROW.

In this post Julie tells us about her experience in various volunteer roles at the Whitworth and what it’s like to be a GROW volunteer.

Julie, one of our volunteers, in her volunteer t-shirt. Julie is well-loved at the Whitworth and never fails to make us smile.

I heard about the GROW project when I attended the course for Mental Health and Wellbeing at Manchester Art Gallery back in April 2017. The course members were shown around the Whitworth, which was one of the venue options to choose from for a six-week placement at Manchester and Salford galleries and museums.

I chose the Whitworth as I was keen to get involved in the different aspects that were on offer in a stunning setting where I could see gardens and a park at 180 degrees on the lower ground floor corridor.

I have volunteered in many different roles over the years at the Whitworth, such as volunteering as visitor guide in the Collection Centre. This was my initial role for my placement. I would familiarise myself with the exhibition in that space and talk to the visitors about their favourite pieces or what had brought them to the exhibition.

I have been lucky enough to exhibit in there too! The Art of Volunteering Exhibition in 2018. I am so proud of that!

Working with the teams of volunteers and curators was such an amazing experience, there was such a brilliant team spirit, the dynamics and the depth of knowledge from everyone involved during the build up to the opening of the exhibition kept me on a happy high for months! Witnessing the moment my little collection of Neolithic paintings were carefully placed within the glass cabinet by the conscientious conservation team was a very special moment for me, I cried with joy!

Julie in The Art of Volunteering exhibition in 2018.

I was super impressed how beautiful the gardens looked, too, and I was excited to try something new. Keeping plants alive has never been my strong point, so it would be an achievement to actually learn good habits and methods from professional local gardeners who had a wealth of knowledge I could dip into. The gardens are so peaceful! It has been a really positive experience and a real pleasure to be part of a lovely project like GROW. I’m very proud to see bulbs I’ve planted pop up. Knowing I’ve contributed to such a cool place makes me feel very good. I need to be outside in nature anyway, it calms me down.

I felt a little nervous at first that I was going to kill things or tread on flowers (not intentionally!) but, apart from that, very excited and even giddy to be a volunteer in a team of gardeners! I had a sense of belonging and purpose.

Our GROW volunteers help to keep our grounds looking beautiful. Spring is always a riot of colour with the flowers they have helped to plant.

We are given clear instructions, which sometimes are misheard or misunderstood, so mistakes sometimes happen. The Landscape Technician is a nice guy, he is patient with us and is always concerned for our welfare. I’ve really been moved by the level of compassion and patience that is shown to us both as a group and on an individual basis by the GROW team and all staff at all level at the Whitworth. It’s a safe space when I’m not feeling confident within myself. That level of attentiveness in turn, as behavior, rubs off on you, so you go the extra mile to help others around you also. It’s a very positive place.

Members of the group really listen and share. In a fast world of serious problems, both personal and global, it’s a great opportunity to step off the wheel of misfortune and have a laugh with good people, learn a new skill and forget your woes in the fresh air on a regular basis. That brings stability, which can echo back into the world we are sometimes trying to escape from and allow a refreshed perspective to deal with life more objectively.

I have volunteered in other roles, such as textile care with a wonderful, skilled team; opening seams, by unpicking stitches, rerolling and documenting beautiful fabrics and wallpapers, under careful supervision from the conservation team. I’ve carried out librarian duties, having the privilege of seeing some of the most fascinating books within the Whitworth’s vast collection- which sparked many amazing conversations with my fellow volunteers and curators too! We have become good friends, connected through our passion for art and curiosity for many diverse subjects!

I have volunteered for family events, such as; summer projects with children and adults, the Frost Fair and evening opening events for many new exhibitions. I have been lucky to hear stories from some of the most influential local and international contemporary artists, which keep me connected to a wealth of art I may only have gazed at lovingly in the past.

Julie and some of her fellow volunteers with Fiona, our Volunteer Manager.

For me personally, volunteering has had a profoundly positive effect on healing from trauma and connecting me to society again. Building my confidence back, and making me feel valued for what I bring to the community as well. I have gained employment from a subsequent volunteering role within another institution along the way. All of this stemmed from the gentle encouragement of a dear friend who saw I needed support to step in the right direction.

I appeal to anyone who is feeling isolated to just come in and say hello.

The art of conversation or the conversation of art is a good starting point to a blossoming relationship within a beautiful building and such a welcoming community. There is room enough for all of us in this place where we belong and grow.

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