Christine and Matthew
Volunteering at Cromford - Interview with Christine Duckworth and Matthew Jenkins
In a time when it is proving increasingly hard to gain employment, particularly for young people and graduates, advice one hears time and again is to seek out volunteering opportunities where skills made be developed and experiences gained. The Arkwright Society are always looking for volunteers - no matter what age, interests or experience - to get involved across the mill site with a variety of tasks. For two young people, their experiences volunteering at Cromford have proved invaluable, not only as life lessons, but in leading to other paid employment and the furthering of their careers.
Though from slightly different backgrounds, both Christine Duckworth and Matthew Jenkins were looking for experience of work, particularly in a historic context. By volunteering at Cromford, they gained experience of working at a heritage site, getting stuck into a variety of tasks. Though their roles were part-time, and to a large extent office-based, both emphasise how much they felt they achieved in the time they were with the Arkwright Society. Significantly, the experience has led to them finding paid employment elsewhere, and they stress that without their time at Cromford, they don’t believe they would have been so successful.
Christine Duckworth (volunteered March - September 2011)
“Through graduating from Lancaster University with a Bachelors Degree in History and Manchester University with a Masters Degree in American Studies, I was able to start upon my path of wanting to work within a historical environment. At the time I was also living in Wigan with my family and working at Asda, where I had been employed for over five years. Upon graduating I was not precisely sure which route I wanted to take with my degrees; all I knew was that I wanted to work with the public and have History involved in some way. During my summer breaks whilst at Lancaster I had done some short stints volunteering within Record Offices and decided that I would search for more such voluntary roles (whilst still working in retail) to gain some more experience and to see in which way I wanted to work with HistoryHH.
I had been applying for jobs simultaneously with applying for volunteer positions, but the competition was incredibly high, especially around the time of late 2010. I was unsuccessful with gaining any volunteer roles in the North West and decided to move my search towards Derbyshire. My boyfriend lives in Chesterfield so I thought of trying to combine the two of coming to see him for a couple of days a week and also having a day volunteering. Again, I sent letters to many different organisations but luckily, Viktoria Allison from the Arkwright Society replied asking me to come in for a day during March 2011, see what I thought to Cromford Mill and have a sit down with the team in Visitor Services; from then on in I volunteered one day a week within the Visitor Services Office for about 6 months, a decision that proved to be one of the best to come my way!
My role within the office was definitely varied, and that suited me fine! I did a lot of administration work (something I had never really done before) such as filing, answering e-mails or using different computer packages, and then I moved on to do a lot of marketing and advertising for the Mill and any events that were going to occur there. What I really enjoyed however was interacting with the public, and simply talking to them about the history of the Mill; I had learnt about the beginning of Industrial England at school but I was now able to interact with the public in a way that I had never done before. Increasing people’s knowledge of their local history is what I realised I wanted to do with my career and I am incredibly thankful to Cromford Mill that they put up with me for all that time and let me realise precisely that!
Again, I was continuing to apply for jobs and decided to look more in the Derbyshire area to widen my scope. In September 2011, Willersley Castle Hotel nearby in Cromford replied asking me to come in for an interview for a permanent full time duel position of Receptionist and Social Organiser - after a week or two of waiting I got the job! For those who do not already know, Sir Richard Arkwright, the pioneer behind Cromford Mill also had Willersley Castle built, though he died before its completion. His family nonetheless lived there until the 1920s. The experience I gained within the Office at the Mill I believe has definitely assisted in my role as Receptionist. As Social Organiser, I arrange activities for the guests and as part of my future role there I hope to encourage people to come to the Castle and learn about its history as well as its strong links to Cromford and the Mill. I have been able to achieve my aim of working with the public and also within a historical environment and I am incredibly grateful to the Arkwright Society for giving me such an opportunity.”
Matthew Jenkins (volunteered October 2011 - March 2012)
“Unlike Christine I am local to Cromford, and, as so often with opportunities close to home, the chance to volunteer at Cromford Mill was one I almost overlooked. Knowing the Mill very well I have realised that I almost came to take it for granted, and on realising that it offered the perfect opportunity to gain some volunteer experience my first response was ‘What a great idea - why haven’t I thought of that before!?’
In September 2011, I completed a Masters degree in the Archaeology of Buildings from the University of York. My decision to undertake this course after graduating from Durham University with an Honours Degree in History had been down to my desire to pursue my interest in architectural history, with the eventual aim of working with historic buildings. Like Christine I had spent the final months of my Masters course applying for various jobs with national heritage organisations, local authorities and on individual projects alike, but without success. My enquiry as to the possibility of volunteering with the Arkwright Society was met with reassuring enthusiasm and interest, particularly on meeting Chief Executive Sarah McLeod and the Visitor Services Department team. I too found myself volunteering within Visitor Services for a couple of days a week.
Initially I was most interested in becoming a volunteer tour guide, leading groups of visitors round the site, explaining its history and significance. However, soon I was involved in a whole variety of interesting and absorbing tasks within the office, from general admin and booking enquiries to the organisation and promotion of events. I was even given the task of arranging a series of talks to celebrate the Festival of British Archaeology in the summer of 2012, which (please excuse the shameless plug!) promise to be fascinating and engaging for academics and the interested public alike. Almost more invaluable in my own opinion than the experience of such different tasks has been the simple day-to-day experience of working in an enthusiastic and committed heritage site team. My time at Cromford has only served to reinforce my desire to pursue a career with heritage, historic sites and associated public engagement.
As Christine had done, I also continued to apply for jobs whilst working at Cromford, all the time expanding my applications with more experience from my work at the mill. In February of this year I was invited to an interview for the position of Site Manager of Berwick-upon-Tweed Barracks for English Heritage. I was rather overwhelmed when a few days later I was offered the post! I am in no doubt that without my experience at Cromford I would have stood little or no chance of even getting an interview, let alone the job. I am looking forward now to relocating to Northumberland and taking up the post later this month. Though obviously excited about the challenges which lie ahead, I will miss working at Cromford and am indebted to the Arkwright Society and the Visitor Services team in particular for the experience.”
We would both really encourage anyone who is interested to get involved with the Arkwright Society and take the chance to volunteer. The Arkwright Society, and indeed the site at Cromford, could not have, and cannot continue to, achieve its potential without the work of countless individuals like ourselves who are keen to give up their time. Working here has been a pleasure, not only in what we have achieved, but in everyday encounters with the public, and working with a wonderful team of people. Moreover, our experience has shown that not only is volunteering at the mill great fun, but it can also be incredibly worthwhile in furthering your career.
It doesn’t matter who you are, anyone can get involved. All you need is commitment and bags of enthusiasm. Take a look at the pages on volunteering here http://www.arkwrightsociety.org.uk/content/volunteer-opportunities for all the information you need.
Get involved - we can only hope you have as much fun and success as we have done!