Meet the Volunteers - Jessica Willis
In the Museum | 07 Jun, 2018 | Guest Blog
Jessica Willis - Collections Volunteer

To celebrate Volunteers Week 2018, we've asked our volunteers to share their experiences of volunteering with our visitors.

Today we meet Jessica Willis, a volunteer who is helping us scan our extensive image archive!

Why do you volunteer?

"After graduating from university I felt the typical panic of “WHAT NOW!” I knew the industry I wanted to work in but having spent the last three years writing essays and working part time in a coffee shop, I felt under-experienced and lacked the confidence to reach out and claim a place in it. Many an existential breakdown later, I decided the best way to gain that elusive experience was to go out and get it. I wanted to try as many different things as possible, and if them and I weren’t the best match, at least that would be valuable knowledge nonetheless. When I saw the Mary Rose Trust were looking for archive volunteers I was immediately drawn to it. The digitisation of archives is something I’m passionate about, and I was excited by the fact it engaged with a period I knew little about."

What do you enjoy most about volunteering at the Mary Rose?

"The people and the knowledge! It’s a lovely, welcoming team who make you feel appreciated for giving up your time. People come from all sorts of backgrounds and have a variety of different interests, plus they’re more than happy to help if you have a question. It doesn’t matter if you aren’t versed in archaeological terminology, because someone may suddenly drop in and reveal that what you’re looking at is something completely different to what you originally thought. Also, having always lived close to the Dockyards, it’s fascinating to explore local history in such an immediate way."

What does a standard day volunteering at the Mary Rose involve?

"We start the day at ten o’clock with a short briefing about what we’ll be working with, and to voice any comments from the previous week. Each of us (we’re a team of five) then take a contact sheet of six 35mm film strips to work on. Our process consists of cleaning the film and mantling them in their cases for scanning; the scan then takes around half an hour, and in that time we can check through previous scans to ensure they’re good quality and match their labelling."

Do you volunteer anywhere else?

"Yes, I also volunteer at Aspex Gallery in Portsmouth. Generally, I’ll be front of house, but occasionally I’ll get the chance to do something more creative like interview artists and photograph items from the shop. Like the Mary Rose, it’s one of those cases where there’s more skills to be learnt and experience to be gained than first meets the eye – at the Mary Rose I recently had the chance to put together one of the digitisation blog posts, offering a chance to write for an entirely new audience and play around with different styles. "

What would you say to anyone thinking about volunteering?

"I’d say go for it! If you’ve got time to spare one day a week then I think it’s a great investment. My confidence has grown so much through volunteering and I’ve met tons of great people, plus you’re helping aid future scholarship so it’s a win-win situation."

Do you have any fun/funny stories about volunteering you could tell us about?

"It’s hard to think of specifics, but every time we come across some rather eccentrically-posed diver, or of-the-time hors d’oeuvres, it always makes us smile. You never quite know what gems you’ll reveal in the archives and that makes it all the more exciting. "