Stories of Dales Countryside Museum volunteers revealed

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The Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority is celebrating Volunteers’ Week by publishing the photos and stories of some of the people who help out at the Dales Countryside Museum (DCM) in Hawes.

Between them the featured volunteers – Jane Filby, Evelyn Abraham, Marilyn Cruickshanks, Eleanor Scarr, Sue Foster and Janet Thomson – give hundreds of hours of time each year.

They entertain visitors; assist people researching the Dales or their family history; look after the archives; and help keep the museum a welcoming and attractive place.  The museum is owned and run by the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority (YDNPA).

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Museum manager Fiona Rosher said:  “Our volunteers help make the DCM a vibrant and interesting place to visit. We’d be lost without them.  They do an immense amount of hugely valuable and interesting research and archiving work.  They are also often the face of the museum, running entertaining demonstrations.”

The Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority’s Member Champion for Recreation Management, Nick Cotton, said:  “I’d like to take the opportunity presented by Volunteers’ Week to thank everyone who gives their time and energy to help fulfil the purposes of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority.

“Put simply, our volunteers help us do far more good than we otherwise would be able to do.  I never cease to be amazed by our volunteers’ efforts to conserve and enhance the park’s natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage.”

These are their stories:

Jane Filby holds a bronze age spearhead discovered at Semerwater.

Jane Filby holds the museum’s prized Bronze Age spearhead, discovered in 1938 on the shores of Semerwater.

She says: “About 18 months ago a tiny piece in the Craven Herald newspaper put me on a path that has culminated in this photograph. The article was an appeal for Dales Volunteers and I answered it. I have rarely embarked on something so rewarding and life enhancing.

“I’ve stomped around in woodlands near Settle with Young Rangers; spent ‘Wild Wednesdays’ doing crafts at Aysgarth and Malham; and helped ewes give birth in front of a succession of primary school children on a farm above Horton in Ribbesdale. Sitting in a dusty barn with a tiny lamb plucked from beneath its heat lamp to be bottle fed is a memory I cherish and illustrates how being a Dales Volunteer rewards on so many levels.

“Running alongside all of this has been working at the DCM in Hawes, where volunteering has given me hours of satisfaction and fun. Who wouldn’t love to hunt for bugs, launch water-powered rockets, talk to Bradford children about Romans and assist an acclaimed visiting stone carver?

“The highlight of my first year as a Dales Volunteer was in October 2016 when the Spear project led me to two nights on Semerwater. Talking to visitors about the prehistory of the area then standing on the installation built by David Murphy that actually seemed to float ethereally on the lake was enriching and magical. When this spring I was allowed to hold the spear the experience was complete.”

Evelyn Abraham in the museum, dressed as a traditional Daleswoman.

She says: “It’s surprising how many questions you get. A lot of men are interested in finding out how it is possible to cook a meal on the black lead range. ‘Where do you get the hot water from?’ they ask. Children can occasionally get a little fright when they see me, a real person, in the museum, especially as I wear the white cap. But I soon have them entertained.

“I think it’s important that we remember the way things used to be done. We hold demonstration wash days and cooking days four times a year to help people understand how life used to be.”

Marilyn Cruickshanks, perusing texts in the research room.

She says: “I volunteer because I have always enjoyed visiting museums, and I believe everyone should have access to museums. I started many years ago, doing the dusting in the museum’s dairy once per month. Now I help in the research room.

“This involves helping visitors find information about their family history, or just general information about a village or the local area. It can include requests for information sent in by e-mail. We also do archive work, for example scanning the original copies of the Wensleydale Advertiser from the 1840s, so that eventually they will be able to be accessed online.”

Eleanor Scarr sits with young visitors in the museum’s traditional kitchen.

She says: “I have been a volunteer for around 10 years, starting off in the Victorian Farmhouse Kitchen chatting to visitors as they passed through the museum. With a life time experience of farming, the talk can often lead to comparisons between past and present farming practice as well as all the objects in the kitchen.

“I moved on to be a committee member for the Friends of DCM and that led me to the Research Room where volunteers help each Monday and Wednesday giving assistance to anyone looking for family history or any local history from our extensive collection. I am particularly interested in dialect and pleased to help students with their quest for knowledge about the dales. Being born in Wensleydale, my local knowledge seems to be a great asset.

“The pleasure comes from seeing someone’s face light up when they find an old photograph of a relative, or when they find out facts dating to as far back as 1725. It is a most rewarding way to use my time.”

Sue Foster, on the left of the photo, in the museum’s garden, alongside fellow volunteer, Marilyn Cruickshanks. Sue says: “I have been volunteering at the museum for over 20 years, since I started as Secretary of the Friends of DCM in 1994.

“The real pleasure in volunteering is being able to see and handle so many of the artefacts, whether it is through cleaning the exhibits or preserving the quilts and fabrics in the store room.

“And of course, working in the garden is always a pleasure, when time and weather allows.”

Janet Thomson stands in the archive room.

She says: “I began volunteering at the DCM as part of a group which gave unique numbers to objects held in the museum archives. This activity gave me a fascinating glimpse of items not normally on public display and I learnt a lot about local history and the culture of the dales.

“Now I help to add newly donated objects, inputting the details on a digital database and storing the artefacts in boxes. Objects range from old photographs of the dales to agricultural implements to wartime ration books and clothing accessories.

“I never know what I shall be working on next, so variety is the ‘spice of life’ in the museum world; one of the latest objects to be added to the collection is a special whisk for making Bournville hot chocolate.”

One of the main routes to volunteering with the YDNPA is through the Dales Volunteer programme, a long-term volunteering commitment across a range of activities.

It is currently  oversubscribed, but there are many other opportunities.

Volunteers are being sought to help run the Dales Young Rangers groups in the north and west of the park, for example.

For details of all volunteering opportunities, please go the YDNPA website: