Our invaluable volunteers

Objects before conservation
Leeds School of Medicine objects before conservation work. Image credit Leeds University Library.

Leeds School of Medicine objects before conservation work. Image credit Leeds University Library.

Our Conservation Officer, Sharon Connell, talks about the contribution of volunteers in Special Collections.

Volunteering is a key element in making our collections accessible for research, teaching and public enjoyment. The Collections Care and Conservation Team has a longstanding commitment to welcoming volunteers with the skills, dedication and goodwill they bring.  Volunteers help us deliver projects as well as carrying out routine work, such as cleaning and repackaging collections.

Our volunteers have diverse backgrounds and a variety of experience and interests. This can make for lively interaction and has inspired some volunteers to explore further potential avenues of research and study based on the collections they have been working on. Some have gone on to work in conservation.

Apart from being lovely, community-minded people, united by a passion for history and heritage, why do they do it? Generally speaking, they want to build new skills or apply their existing ones in a new way, learn about what happens ‘behind the scenes’ in conservation or just meet like-minded people.

Recently, volunteers have been helping with our Medical Collections Project. Once soiled and difficult to access items are now clean and rehoused. Gone are the weird and wonderful packaging solutions of yesteryear like manila envelopes and ancient Kapok stuffing material, which were damaging the collections. Thanks to our volunteers these have been replaced with beautifully crafted paper wrappers and boxes, each made bespoke for particular items.  Medals, for example, are nested in inert foam in boxes and wrapped in archival quality acid free tissue.

Not only are the collections more stable and protected as a result of these simple actions but we all derive great satisfaction seeing how well cared for they now look!

Objects after conservation
Objects from the Leeds School of Medicine Collection after repackaging. Image credit Leeds University Library

“I was happy with the repackaging of the medals because I felt it paid tribute to all the medical staff who had received the awards”, Helen Utting, retired Senior Lecturer, Leeds University School of Healthcare, and conservation volunteer

Anyone can become a volunteer – no experience is necessary as training in handling and basic conservation techniques is given. Look out for roles, usually advertised as and when they are available, via Twitter @LULGalleries or Volunteer Connect.

Insight from a Volunteer

Third Year Graphic & Communication Design student, Camila Castenada, writes about her experiences as a volunteer on the Footsteps into Art programme.


The volunteering experience with ‘Footsteps Into Art’ has been one of a kind. Working with children has that overall feeling of bliss and enthusiasm, watching them explore different techniques and mediums is a refreshing view, as they express themselves with fearless curiosity and freedom.
It was a privilege to be part of such a caring and special team in charge of the program. The children always seemed happy to see us, they were kind and welcoming. Spending time with them and the teachers not only gave me the opportunity to see how art education for this young minds unfolds, but it also allowed me to learn so much more about the field.
The workshops at the gallery were great. The children always seemed to have a happy time at the university. The visiting artists were always prepared and had so much to share with the children. The techniques and lessons were engaging and creative, providing a grounding scenario as an escapade into the visual arts, and hopefully helped to seed an interest as a hobby or vocation for their future. Additionally the visit to the primary school in Little London was a rewarding experience, because it was nice to see that they had a space dedicated to their artistic practice and, and it was also gratifying to carry out a workshop in such a playful atmosphere especially since this is their everyday context.
I am grateful and honoured of being part of such a great volunteering program, and wish the best of luck to its future and succeeding teams.

Running our own workshop

2017 Education Intern, Dominika Blazewicz writes about running a workshop for schools with The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery.

SABG_BubblecollagefromFootstepspupils_2017Together with Penny, a volunteer artist, we were asked to design a short but enjoyable workshop for the Carousel Workshop on 26th January. The idea behind the Carousel Day was to have four one-hour long workshops to really engage the pupils and give them a taster of using and learning about different types of art and materials that can be used in just one day.

Penny and I never ran a workshop before – we were always the ones supporting the artists and children in sessions. As we would be working alongside artists, the pressure to create a workshop that would be highly enjoyable, was real. As the school theme was Harry Potter, we decided to go with the idea of ‘potion painting’ to explore the pupils’ relationship with colour. We did not want to make potions to drink; rather, we wanted to explore how a potion might look in 2 dimensional form, like a painting, using a technique which we called ‘potion painting’. In reality, it was all about bubble painting and using straws instead of brushes, which all fit within the theme of mark-making, as well as Harry Potter.

Before telling the students about being wizards and ‘potion painting’, we discussed the art of John Hoyland and Eric Atkinson in the Gallery, their use of colour and colour representation in their work, and explained how each artist had changed their preferred style of painting following a significant event which had changed them and their attitudes. This led to a discussion with the children on how different colours can affect our moods and feelings differently, i.e. warm, bright colours may make us feel a bit more energetic, and darker colours could represent mystery or sadness.

We also did a breathing exercise, where we asked the pupils to visualise their favourite colour, think of all the things that are their favourite colour, and really notice how their favourite colour makes them feel. This acted as a warm-up for the potion painting, where the students had to think about the ingredients of their potion as colours and how the colours represented what the use of their potion (we asked them to think about their potion in relation to colour and to give their potion painting a title which also gave an indication of what the potion would do if used).

The hour flew by; students really seemed to engage with the workshop, which was evident in the laughter, dirty hands, dirty aprons and generally positive atmosphere.

Some of the feedback we received on our session:

– The teacher was especially pleased with activities linked to the topic

– Colours can also convey feelings

– Using paint and fairy liquid can make nice pictures with bubbles

– I liked making bubbles with liquid and paint

– I had fun today

– I learnt about colour and emotion

– I enjoyed it all because it was so fun

Overall, we really enjoyed ‘training our wizards’, and despite our nerves and running around before the session, we are very much looking forward to running another workshop in the nearest future. Next time, if Penny and I were to do a similar workshop, we would make it last longer, as this would give us an opportunity to reflect on the pupils’ work with the pupils, and to even further discuss their relationship with colour.

Insight from a Volunteer

Emily Gibbons, a volunteer with the Footsteps into Art programme, writes about her experiences working with The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery.


When I first signed up to volunteer with the Footsteps into Art programme I was both nervous and excited. The role was completely alien to all of my previous work experience, and it was quite a daunting prospect to be working with children and documenting the day through photography which I hadn’t done in a professional setting before. My first day volunteering with the Footsteps into Art programme was during Brudenell’s visit to the Stanley and Audrey Burton Gallery on the 9th December, and overall I think the day was valuable to both the students and to us as volunteers.

The primary school students were split into two groups and they rotated between the craft workshop and the workshop in the Treasures of the Brotherton Gallery. One of the main reasons I applied for the voluntary role was in order to gain experience of working within a gallery, and the 9am start definitely helped with that mindset! We had just finished preparing the workspace and materials for the textile workshop when the students arrived and they were soon making use of all the felt and double-sided tape. During the first workshop I spent much of my time talking to the children about their pieces and these conversations were much more rewarding than I was expecting, particularly one student who told me about her art project at home. What really struck me was the high level of engagement with the textiles from all of the students, and it made the workshop feel very rewarding.

My favourite thing about the second workshop was seeing the students looking at the pieces on display in the Treasures of the Brotherton Gallery, and being introduced to a local history of art which I think is so important to be exposed to. The idea of describing colours was also really interesting because personally I think there’s a strong relationship between words and images which is underexplored, and many of the students became really creative with their descriptions. It was refreshing to see their creativity unhindered by any embarrassment or self-policing many artists face. I benefited greatly from this workshop as well, as I had my first opportunity to photograph the children and their work and the limitations imposed on this were interesting to work within.

Overall, the feedback I received when talking to the primary school students was positive, with many of them saying they enjoyed the workshop and would like to return, and also asking about the university and my own art course. I think the volunteering role is incredibly beneficial to gain experience of working with children and within a gallery and I’m looking forward to the next visit!

Meet the Volunteers

Footsteps into Art offers work experience, volunteer opportunities and a paid internship for University of Leeds students.


This year a team of 21 student volunteers will support the Footsteps into Art workshops by working with children on tasks, taking photographs of their artwork and collecting feedback which will contribute to the project evaluation. These students are eager to work with children to share their passion about creativity and art and to gain valuable experience working in an art gallery.

Beyond their passion for art, they’re a varied bunch! We have volunteers from China, Canada and New Zealand, as well as Manchester, Newcastle and the Isle of Man. They come from a range of departments across the University including Biochemistry, French and Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies. The team of volunteers includes a power lifter, a former professional salsa dancer, and someone who completed the Three Peaks Challenge earlier this year.

Through the work based experiences offered by Footsteps into Art, students will add to their already considerable experience by making a difference to the local community, and developing transferrable skills including team work, problem solving, communication, time management and adaptability.