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Volunteer Interview: John

To give insight into the wonderful world of being a volunteer with Dundee Heritage Trust, we had a chat with some of our existing volunteers, who help make Verdant Works Museum and Discovery Point truly special.

John is a former school teacher who volunteers as a guide at Verdant Works Museum; an experience that has brought him personal opportunities which he is very grateful for.

How long have you been a volunteer with Dundee Heritage Trust?

“It’s now more than 10 years. I’ve always been at Verdant Works, because my interests lie here rather than the maritime side of things. When I first started, I got the opportunity of shadowing one of the guides at Discovery Point. It was very interesting and I enjoyed it, but Verdant Works is where my heart is – so to speak – in terms of interest in the history and heritage of the city and the jute industry.

“Being a Dundonian, I have forebears who worked in mills. I had what I thought was a decent base knowledge before I started, but I found out that actually, there’s a lot you don’t know!

“I’ve done a lot of research and studying, because when I’m showing people around the Museum I want to be as clued up as possible.

“One of the things that I think a lot of people overlook is that the story of Dundee and jute is actually a worldwide story. It deals with globalisation, technology, the rights of women, the rights of children; all of these are things that are prominent today. Although it’s a story about Dundee, it’s also a story about the wider world.”

Why did you become a volunteer?

“I was a school teacher, and when I went part-time before taking early retirement, I was looking for something of interest. I didn’t want to just sit on my ‘bahookie’ – as they say in Scots! – so I looked for something that chimed in with my interests. Doing what I do here and what I’m allowed to do here, is in some ways second nature. It was a natural extension of what I’d done for a living.

“The key thing is that I have learned so much. I’ve learned a lot through further research and study about the history and heritage of this place; of the city; of the jute industry; and the connections with the world as a whole.

“I’ve also learned from the people I’ve met here. You meet people from all over the world, the staff, other volunteers – you can learn from them as well.”

‘One of the things that I think a lot of people overlook is that the story of Dundee and jute is actually a worldwide story… Although it’s a story about Dundee, it’s also a story about the wider world.’

John, Verdant Works Museum Volunteer

Within your 10 years as a volunteer are there any stand out moments you’ve experienced?

“I wrote a play about the history of Dundee, called ‘O’ Halflins An Hecklers An Weavers An Weemin‘, based on all of my research. Five years ago, I got the opportunity to perform it with a little theatre group in the High Mill. We did it again the following year and then again in 2023! I have to say, out of all the good experiences here, getting to do that is a highlight.

“I write poetry and plays, but writing that and showing it in the High Mill was just so atmospheric. To get the opportunity to do that was my favourite experience. I couldn’t have done that without my volunteering here – I’m privileged to have this opportunity.”

What would you say to someone who is considering volunteering with Dundee Heritage Trust?

“I would say that it’s interesting and enjoyable and, you meet people from different places with different stories to tell. It all makes the whole tapestry of the experience.

“You learn things; the staff and volunteers over the years always treat you with respect; it’s fun; and you get a laugh. I always try to greet people with a smile and leave them walking out of Verdant Works having had a happy experience and with a smile on their face too. If you do that, they might well come back.

“My thing is the history, heritage and the people and their stories. Equally, if that’s not your thing, there’s opportunities to learn about the machines, the technical side of it, or be involved with research work.

“Some people who are not confident with speaking in front of people, so it doesn’t have to be about that – there are other opportunities within volunteering.“

At Dundee Heritage Trust, we have several opportunities for volunteers from all backgrounds and would love to welcome you.

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