Gill Williamson is a volunteer and Patron of Chetham’s Library, spending one day a week greeting visitors and guiding them to and around the Library.
I started as a volunteer 15 months ago. I had some spare time and sought an activity which would be useful to the organisation concerned, would feed my own interests and also bring me into contact with diverse people. I was particularly attracted by the idea of being in at the beginning of the heritage project involving the medieval buildings.
The volume of visitors means that there is little opportunity to enjoy the collections during the volunteer day. The real opportunities for this comes through membership of the Patrons´ Scheme, when books are set out and put in their historical and literary context for members. I also see books from time to time, which have been prepared for readers or visiting groups. The highlights for me in terms of the Library´s holdings have come by chance. The first time I came to the Library, as part of a Heritage Evening, some wonderful maps of old Manchester had been put out and Michael [Powell, Librarian] talked to us about them.
In the short term, whilst escorting visitors for safe-guarding reasons is a major part of the role, you need to be physically fit, to manage the logistics of individuals and groups turning up unannounced and be determined to give them an enriching experience. In the longer term, the visitors´and heritage areas will be separated: then the task and satisfactions will lie in making the Chetham´s Heritage site the highlight of a visit to Manchester. If you like interacting with people and enjoy history, you will love it. You will also have some first-class colleagues to work with.
I see myself first and foremost as a Chetham´s patron, wanting to support all aspects of its activities. I was not aware of the Library Patrons Scheme until I became a volunteer and had believed the Library´s interests to be addressed along with those of the School through channels such as the Humphrey Chetham Club. When I see the many books which need restoration and the untapped potential for bringing the Library buildings right into the heart of Manchester´s visitor offering, I am delighted to give it specific support. Patronage also gives privileged access to some of the gems in the collection.