The University of Cambridge Museums (UCM) are launching brand new volunteer-led LGBTQ+ tours. Read on to find out more.

The UCM’s collections are full of objects that speak to LGBTQ+ histories and themes, revealing the contribution of individuals and their stories throughout history. We are currently inviting passionate volunteers to join our team of tour guides and share this fascinating content with the wider public through newly-devised tours.

This is a new pilot project for the UCM. The tours will be free 30-40 minute sessions led by volunteers on LGBTQ+ stories in four Cambridge collections. They will run from December 2018 to the end of February 2019. The volunteers will be provided with content for their tours, and will have the chance to choose which stories they tell, or add to their tours if they have a particular personal interest in themes or objects. We are keen on inviting volunteers from our community to talk to the public about LGBTQ+ stories in the collections and, more importantly, for them to choose what they think should be told.

How did the project start?

It all started with a visit from Dan Vo. Dan volunteers at the V&A in London and was heavily involved in the creation of their LGBTQ+ volunteer lead tours. He visited a group of us back in November 2017 where he presented to us the many LGBTQ+ stories he found in the Fitzwilliam Museum from just a short walk through the galleries before our meeting.

Which museums are taking part?

These pilot tours will be available at the Fitzwilliam Museum, the Museum of Classical Archaeology, the Polar Museum and the newly-opened Museum of Zoology. We’re happy to have a mixture of science, art and historical collections to work with. It shows that the stories of LGBTQ+ people can be found across place, time and culture.

How did you research the content for the tours?

For the volunteer role to be as accessible as possible, we knew we would need to provide some content for volunteers to get started with. All of the curators at the Museums were very enthusiastic about the project but as time was in short supply, we knew that pulling together a lot of research would not be feasible for them. Happily, Dan was able to join us as a freelance consultant to pull together stories for each collection. This was conducted in consultation with curators at each museum. The material Dan has given us is great. It includes suggestions on what to research next, and a ‘further reading’ list for each collection. It was also helpful to have Dan’s input on choosing which stories are interesting from an outsider perspective, as well as his experience of creating and running his own tours.

Did you consult anyone else outside of the museums?

Cambridge has large, active LGBTQ+ communities and it was crucial for us to involve them in the conversation. We have been in touch with the Equality and Diversity network at the University of Cambridge and the Encompass Network, Cambridgeshire’s local network for LGBTQ+ people and groups. We have also been in contact with the LGBTQ+ societies at Anglia Ruskin and Cambridge Universities. We are hoping that these tours are the beginning of a closer working relationship with LGBTQ+ networks and are very open to ideas on programming and conversations for the future.

What will it like to be a tour volunteer?

Although this is a pilot project, we hope very much that it offers a meaningful opportunity to volunteer in a role that is quite unique across parts of the UCM. Volunteers will find out about the amazing stories in our collections, be trained in public speaking and how to deliver the tours to a wide audience. We would also like to build a community for the tour guides with regular catch-ups and the chance to share their experiences of the tours, but also discuss interests in the topics.

What is the next step?

The initial wave of recruitment is underway; however, we will be flexible with last minute applications. We will then be providing training on how to create and run tours, as well as giving introductions to the collections and the LGBTQ+ research Dan has provided. We then hope the tours will begin in December 2018. So watch this space!

Keep an eye on our website for when the tours launch!