You might have spotted Zowie volunteering at quite a few different University of Cambridge Museums.

Zowie Sweetland is an Education and Outreach Volunteer at the Whipple Museum of the History of Science, and has volunteered in the galleries, at events and back of house on educational resources at the Museum of Zoology. She has volunteered at outreach events on behalf of the Museum of Classical Archaeology and at a few events at the Polar Museum. Phew…

And, as a result of her reliable, dedicated and incredibly well-pitched help she has won a regional Marsh Volunteers for Museum Learning Award!

Zowie with her award

Congratulations Zowie! We are all so excited for you. How long have you been volunteering across our university museums?

I’ve been volunteering about two and a half years, and it has been great fun. I have learned so much!

What made you interested in the first place? And what made you interested in volunteering across so many of our museums?

I was at a wedding and someone mentioned that they did work with museums in London. I thought, “That’s exciting! I wish I could do something like that.” So I went on the University of Cambridge Museums website and saw an advert for an Education and Outreach volunteer at the Whipple Museum. As I’m a teacher, I thought that sounded ideal for me,  so I went along to the trial and Rosanna [Evans, the Whipple’s Learning Coordinator] was lovely.

When I first moved to Cambridge, I went and visited all the museums. I love museums, so when adverts came up for volunteers at the various museums, I thought it’d be interesting to find out more about them and their  collections. Everyone’s been really friendly and made it a really welcoming, great thing to do.

Zowie in action at the Whipple Museum

What have you most enjoyed being a part of over the years?

There are so many things within the museums that I have really enjoyed being part of. It’s really great being involved with different types of activities in the museums, ranging from visitor engagement and events, to working on the loans boxes in the Zoology Museum. Also, researching and writing social media posts, to get children involved and interested in the animals.

However, I think the most exciting thing was the opening of the Zoology Museum; I saw David Attenborough at the opening event, and everyone was really excited that Zoology was reopening. We had such an amazing visitor presence and since then there’s been so many people coming on repeat visits to the museum, saying how much they really appreciate it being in Cambridge and that is a really lovely thing to be a part of.

And the award goes to…

What is the weirdest thing you have had to help out with?

The weirdest thing I’ve had help out with is probably cleaning skulls for the loans boxes, just because it’s not something I would have ever imagined myself doing. It was really interesting learning how to clean the specimens carefully and getting them ready to go into the schools loans boxes. The range of opportunities available is one of the great things about the University of Cambridge Museums.

Obviously you have given a huge amount of time and effort to different projects across the museums.  Do you think you have gained anything from being involved –  and if so, what?

There are so many things I feel I have gained from being involved with the museums. One of these things is a greater awareness of how museums can function and the issues involved in putting events and collections together. I also have a greater understanding of the importance of museums within communities and how hard the museums work at engaging with diverse groups of people. Museums offer such an important service to the community. While helping out at museum events, parents have been so grateful that there is somewhere to bring their children, where they are welcome, where their children can learn new skills and connect with others. It is so lovely to be part of something which brings such positivity to people’s lives.

Group photo, with museum staff Sara, Rosanna and Niki

How was the day at the awards ceremony?

The award ceremony was lovely. It was great to have Rosanna, Sara [Steele, Museum of Zoology] and Nicola [Hughes, UCM] there to help celebrate. They’ve all been people who have been really supportive throughout my volunteering journey. It was also wonderful to have my family there and have a lovely celebration with them all.  In addition, being at the British Museum was amazing and it was so inspiring seeing the other museums and all the amazing things that they are doing in their communities.

Zowie with her award

Is there any advice you might have for anyone considering volunteering at any of the museums (as a seasoned pro!)?

If you are thinking about volunteering, then give it a go! There is an exciting new volunteering portal, Volunteer Makers, which lets you know when opportunities are available. Think about what interests you, whether that’s a particular collection, or a skill that you would like to develop, and have the confidence to try something new.

Since starting volunteering, I feel that I have gained in confidence when trying things outside my comfort zone. Just because it seems like other people are more knowledgeable or skillful, doesn’t mean that you don’t have something unique to offer. When visitors come into the museums, they are often keen to share their ideas, and don’t expect you to know all the answers. If a visitor does want to know something specific, the museum staff are extremely knowledgeable and helpful, and are happy to explain.

If you think this sounds like fun, then I hope to see you in the museums soon!