#VolunteerVoice: Ron Cork

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Posted 16th February 2018

Why I Became a Watts Volunteer

For me it was 1) in order to fill some of the time on my hands following retirement; 2) the encouragement I received from a friend who was an existing Volunteer; and 3) the enthusiasm engendered by the reopening of Watts Gallery – Artists' Village following completion of the Hope Project in 2011 and wanting to be part of the drive to make it a success.

Once my volunteering duties as a Gallery steward got underway, other benefits became apparent too, not least the rapid accumulation of knowledge about G F Watts and of the other artists the Gallery were now able to bring to attention through exhibitions in the new showcase and exhibition galleries, (for example Richard Dadd, William and Evelyn De Morgan, Frank Holl, and John Ruskin).

Gaining knowledge in this way encouraged me to train as a volunteer tour guide, in order to pass this knowledge on to visitors and to act as an ambassador for the Gallery through, for example, promoting the Gallery's Friends programme.

As a volunteer, you are always learning. For example, I received a boost to my knowledge of Helen Allingham when Annabel Watts, who curated the current exhibition alongside the curatorial team, visited with a group while I was stewarding a few weeks ago. I was able to keep in earshot of her tour of the exhibition, which was an instructive experience, allowing me to offer more detailed information to visitors should they ask for it.

I find you can engage the interest of Allingham exhibition tour groups (if they are not already captivated by your tour guide skills!) by telling them that William Allingham (Helen's husband) was the poet who wrote 'The Faeries'. I (and others) picked this up from the redoubtable (and well read) Val Monaghan, who recited the poem word for word (with actions!) at one of the volunteer training sessions when the exhibition first opened.

You are likely to find that many visitors recall this poem from school days; it goes something like this: ' .....up the airy mountain, down the rushy glen, we daren't go a - hunting for fear of little men ....'!

I guess that is one of the plusses of tour guiding. We learn from curatorial staff, from fellow guides and stewards and, in the case of the Allingham exhibition, from tour group members and individual visitors, many of whom recognise the cottages and others scenes painted by Allingham in our part of Surrey (i.e. Haslemere, Whitley, Shere, etc), and can tell us about the history of buildings and places from their personal local knowledge.

Ron Cork
Volunteer Tour Guide