Last April I began working as a Volunteer Tour Guide at Leeds Museums Discovery Centre.
Every Thursday at 11am and 2pm I tour this purpose-built store highlighting objects from our social history, geology, world cultures, archaeology, natural science and dress and textile collections. This is where we store, protect and care for the one million objects (approximately 95% of the city’s museum collections) that are not currently on display at any of the city’s nine museum sites. The tours are open to everyone, we just ask that you phone or email to confirm your place. I think this might be the most exciting building in Leeds.
Having learnt the tour script I was encouraged to explore the store and add in new objects of interest. This is ongoing, adding in the new stuff. The discovery is constant and being able to talk competently and enthusiastically about many things is the best kind of challenge. We walk the tours with a set route yet a flexible itinerary of objects because as a working environment, the objects can change location. The other thing that changes is you, the visitor.
I had the privilege of shadowing a tour by the World Cultures Curator Antonia Lovelace and saw how her ease with the visitors allowed their interests and stories to shape the experience. This liberated me from my detailed script. I learnt to prioritise the visitor over the objects, less time speeding from object to object and more time allowing the objects to work as little connectors, go-betweens of human experience. Facts and information resonate at every shelf, every box; the trick is to allow conversation too because then the knowledge sharing becomes extra-ordinary.
Visitors often ask “What is this?” but the store really opens up when visitors talk about objects that they recognize and have knowledge of. Every object is recorded on our museum database but inevitably many lie unseen or unnoticed. The more visitors that come, the more objects awaken. The more conversations we have, the greater the democratization of our knowledge and the more able we are to celebrate our communal value. Talking is good, come and join the conversation!
How to find the Discovery Centre:
Leeds Museums Discovery Centre is located on Carlisle Road, 1.5 miles south from the city centre, near Leeds Dock and the Royal Armouries Museum.
Get in touch:
For more information about visiting our store, please contact us on 0113 378 2100, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit our website.
By Pamela Crowe, Volunteer Store Tour Guide