by Dave Sage, M Shed Volunteer
As a volunteer working at M Shed you never know what might happen next. I’ve been volunteering for a couple of years, combining acting as a guide for the Behind The Scenes tour with work on digital archives.
Recently I’ve been working on oral histories, which involves listening to, transcribing and summarising interviews with people who have had a significant part to play in Bristol’s past and present. There was a host of topic folders to choose from. I chose ‘People and Politics’ and started work on a conversation about the Bristol-Hannover exchange, established not long after World War II and the first of its kind.
The recording had been made in 1999 and the interviewee was Neville Osborne, a German scholar who had been one of the leading lights of the exchange from its beginnings and then over many years as it grew and flourished. It was fascinating to listen to him describe how he got involved and how it came about so soon after the end of the war. He drew on his memories and also the recollections he published two years earlier when he was 87.
As I listened and transcribed, his personal story unfolded. His early life was in Lancaster, then after university and a first teaching job in Cheltenham, he joined Bristol Grammar School and worked there until retirement.
It was only then that the penny dropped – I was listening to my old German teacher! I hadn’t twigged before as the interviewer called him ‘Neville’ and there had been no specific reference to my old school to that point.
As boys we had called him Ned, in a rather derogatory way, and I remember him as a strict and formidable disciplinarian, typical of the many ‘old school’ teachers in BGS at the time.
He taught me German to ‘A’ Level and was a hard taskmaster. It was fascinating to hear him again – his voice had changed a fair bit – talking about things I was entirely unaware of when he was my teacher.
As a volunteer for Bristol Museums there’s no saying what you might come across.
My surprising discovery was an act of pure serendipity and I was transported back to my youth when listening to my old German teacher.
Your role could do something similar or it could prompt you to dig deeper into a new subject. So if you’re thinking about volunteering, take the plunge, who knows what might happen!
Main image: Bristol Grammar School © Bristol Charities