Meet the ‘Pliosaurus!’ exhibition volunteer team

Posted on by Lauren MacCarthy.

by Isla Gladstone, senior curator for Natural History

It’s been a busy week for Doris the Pliosaurus as visitors have flocked to see her before our exhibition closes on 18 February.

Alongside Doris, we’ve had some other stars of the show – a fantastic team of Pliosaurus! volunteers. Between them, 61 regular volunteers have contributed almost 4,500 hours to supporting our visitors’ experience.

In this blog, we meet some of the Pliosaurus volunteer team, learn about their own experiences of the exhibition and what it has meant to them.

This programme has been generously funded by the Palaeontological Association, who recognised the value of having a real person on hand to help people explore the wonders of palaeontology.

Ryan Lewis, Volunteer Engagement Co-ordinatorRyan Lewis - pliosaurus volunteer coordinator

I began my career managing volunteers at Bristol Zoo Gardens, then came the chance to work with Bristol
Museum & Art Gallery and their incredible Pliosaurus! exhibition. The 8.5 metre fossil, the story, the dedicated team, it was impossible not to be taken-in by this exciting project.

Volunteers are an increasingly important component for modern day charities and it’s with their dedication, desire, knowledge and skills we are able to really add that extra layer of engagement. Through fun, memorable and interactive learning we set out to capture the imagination of Bristol’s inner palaeontologists and wildlife enthusiasts.

It’s our hope that volunteers will also benefit from volunteering with us. It can be a catalyst for further opportunities, a chance to meet new people and learn new skills. Sometimes it’s just about doing something completely different to your everyday life.

Josh Pashley, exhibition volunteer

Why did you apply to become a Pliosaurus volunteer?
Josh Pashley – Pliosaurus exhibition volunteerI’d just finished a year-long music production course and was looking for something to do over the summer. I happened to check the museum jobs page on a whim and saw they were looking for volunteers which seemed ideal – something to let me help the Bristol community, improve my interpersonal skills and keep myself occupied.

What have you enjoyed most about your volunteering experience?
The families! It’s great to see so many groups with children come through the exhibit, and see kids so enthralled by all the activities and things to play with and learn from. The hand puppets especially are a huge hit and a great way to teach them about Pliosaur behaviour – or just have play fights with!

Is there a particular story that you would like to share?
Plenty of great interactions with guests, but I think my favourite was the little girl who was initially shy, but after exploring for ages refused to leave without saying one last goodbye to Doris. With that, she shouted ‘I love her!’ then ran up and gave the model a big hug, a pat, and said ‘Get well soon!’ Just adorable.

Vicky Fish, exhibition volunteer

What have you enjoyed most about your volunteering experience?
Vicky Fish - Pliosaurus volunteerI’ve really loved meeting kids who are genuinely fascinated by Doris and everything we have to tell them about her. There are so many of them that know way more about these kinds of things than their parents, so they’re able to teach them a thing or two. They ask intelligent and insightful questions, some of which even we struggle to answer. I just think it’s so great that kids get so excited about a subject so close to my own heart.

What do you do when you are not a Pliosaurus volunteer?
I’ve recently been spending a fair portion of my spare time helping a few of my fellow volunteers to create a storybook about Doris! We run a Little Jurassic Explorers session on Wednesday morning that involves story time, and we realised that there are so many books on dinosaurs, but none on marine reptiles like Doris, so we decided to make our own! So, when at home, I’ve been busy on my laptop, creating the illustrations for Doris’ very own story book.

Caroline Harvey, exhibition volunteer

Why did you apply to become a Pliosaurus volunteer?
Caroline Harvey – Pliosaurus exhibition volunteerI have done quite a bit of volunteering with different science experiences and this seemed a bit different. In spite of achieving my MSc in Earth Sciences a year ago, I was aware that my knowledge of palaeontology in general, and Pliosaurus in particular, was limited and this seemed a brilliant opportunity not just to widen my volunteering experience but also to gain new scientific knowledge and understanding.

Is there a particular story that you would like to share?
My favourite story has to be the young child who wrote a postcard to Doris saying how much she loved her, and came in specially for another visit to hand it in. She could remember so much from her previous visit, despite being pre-school age. 

Tiffany Kee, exhibition volunteer

What have you enjoyed most about your experience?
Tiffany Kee – Pliosaurus exhibition volunteerGetting to know the other volunteers was so much fun and all of the museum staff were incredible. I joined Debbie and Finn on a few occasions for outreach projects. We went to community fairs and took over Cabot Circus with Fluffy (an exact replica of Doris’s skull) which was awesome.

Debbie really made me feel comfortable with talking about Doris because she knew every intricate detail. I loved hearing about all of Doris’s fascinating pathologies and then coming up with theories as to how they might have occurred. I would then convey this to the older children who were so receptive and the younger children who turned Doris’s injuries into an incredibly detailed story (some of them really made my day).

Finn made me realise how important it is to reach out to families that live further away and may not even realise that there’s a free museum full of wonders to explore. It was so heart-warming seeing how overjoyed a parent became at the sight of their child enthusiastically telling me how much they know about marine reptiles, yet had never visited the museum.

Meeting that same family later on at the exhibition was awesome, because it shows you how much it works. I feel like we may have just provided the University of Bristol with a future generation of Palaeontologists. That’s really cool.

Nick Pope, exhibition volunteer

Why did you apply to become a Pliosaurus volunteer?
Keen interest in prehistoric large marine reptiles and prehistoric mammals. So that’s 1 out of 2!

What have you enjoyed most about your experience?
Quite simply the whole experience, from meeting and interacting with some really nice and interesting people (volunteers, staff and public) to seeing a little of behind the scenes at the museum.

Is there a particular story that you would like to share?
There are lots but I’ll settle for one of the earliest and funniest: I walked into Doris’ room to see a lady and her daughter with their heads pressed up against the caption wall. When I asked what they were doing I was told that they were following the instructions and listening to Doris’ heartbeat!

Melisa, exhibition volunteer

Why did you apply to become a Pliosaurus volunteer?
Melisa – Pliosaurus exhibition volunteerI am very passionate about science outreach and I thought that the Pliosaurus! exhibition was an extraordinary opportunity to get kids involved in palaeontology; the life-size model of Doris and all the interactive displays that complement it give people a brand-new perspective on prehistoric Bristol, and it’s exciting to be able to be a part of it!

What have you enjoyed most about your experience?
I love getting people, particularly children, enthused by palaeontology and science! Several kids have told me that they would love to be palaeontologists when they grow up. Even if they don’t, I think that the Pliosaurus! exhibition has nurtured their scientific curiosity and I’d be thrilled if any kids that have visited Doris end up pursuing scientific careers. I also love that many children (and parents) are absolutely fascinated when I tell them that Doris used to swim around Bristol 150 million years ago. It was a completely different world back then!

Charlie Navarro, exhibition volunteer

What have you enjoyed most about your volunteering experience?
Watching the reactions of different people seeing Doris for the first time. We’ve had a range of reactions from excitement, to fear, with even a few tears as well. But even the most frightened of visitors worked up the courage to give Doris a stroke and they’ve fallen in love with her. I’ve enjoyed recognising the same visitors every week who have kept coming back to see Doris.

Is there anything you will take away from your time as a volunteer?
What I will take away from my time as a volunteer is the interaction with different members of the public. We’ve had a wide range of visitors at Pliosaurus, from youngsters with a passion for all things dinosaurs, to adults just popping in to see what the fuss was about, to some fearless toddlers who have walked straight up to Doris without any worry. Dealing with different ages can be challenging and learning how to engage different people is something that will be helpful to me in the future.

Sarah Fuller, exhibition volunteer

What have you enjoyed most about your experience?
Sarah Fuller – Pliosaurus exhibition volunteerI really enjoy working with a range of people, talking to visitors – all ages. I learn something new every time I am at the exhibition.

Is there a particular story that you would like to share?
I am always very impressed with the things that the children know. I talk to them about marine reptiles and how they lived, they listen and then respond talking about what they already know. They are often able to remember all the names of the dinosaurs, which I frequently forget!

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