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Museum volunteers who went extra mile during pandemic to open exhibition recognised with prestigious award

The outstanding contribution made by a dedicated team of volunteers who worked to help get an exhibition launched on time during the pandemic has been recognised at the prestigious 2020 Marsh Award for Museum Learning event held at the British Museum today, 1 November 2021.

Thirty-three volunteers from the National Museum of the Royal Navy and Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust won the South East England regional award for their work on Diving Deep: HMS Invincible 1744 at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. The winners will each receive a cash prize of £500, donated by the Marsh Charitable Trust.

The project, which is an important collaboration with the Maritime Archaeology Sea Trust, Bournemouth University and Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust has been made possible with funding from The National Lottery Heritage Fund. After a year at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, the exhibition will move to Chatham Historic Dockyard.

From diving and excavating the famous wreck which lies in the Solent and is probably the best-preserved 18th century warship in the UK, to conserving and recording the finds and developing and installing a travelling exhibition and associated website, the volunteer team has been closely involved in the exhibition’s life. Their work is informing the development of a new volunteer strategy at the National Museum.

The volunteer team consulted with the project manager and exhibition designer to find ways to ensure that all the touching and smelling - the fun family activities in the exhibition - could continue whilst also being Covid safe. The team used interpretation to design hand sanitising activities integral to the experience. Characters from the exhibition encourage visitors to sanitise their hands throughout.

Eileen Clegg, Community Archaeologist at the National Museum of the Royal Navy who led the team and nominated them said:

“Despite a global pandemic, this group of volunteers worked against the clock online and in person during national lockdowns to successfully install the exhibition in time for its opening.

“The volunteers are located across the south of England from Dorset to Kent and even as far away as Canada. They worked together both in person and virtually for two years to research Invincible, prepare collection items and develop an exhibition interpretation plan which has been based on public, access, and community group consultation. The result has been a very popular exhibition that explains complex archaeological science in an engaging and creative way with visitors touching, feeling and even smelling objects from the ship in a safe and appropriate way being Covid safe.”

Volunteer Brent Piniuta, who lives in Canada said:

“I really feel blessed. So many wonderful people I’ve met through my volunteering for Diving Deep that I can’t wait to meet in person. And all done from across the Atlantic.”

Volunteer Sara Marshall from Dorset said:

‘We were particularly thrilled to work with the leather shoes. What first appeared to be wet kippers in bags turned out to be a variety of shoes, some with wooden heels, some belonging to children.’

The year-long exhibition tells the story of Invincible; her capture, the contribution she made to the Royal Navy and ship design and her subsequent sinking in 1758 and rediscovery by a local fisherman, Arthur Mack, nearly 200 years later. It showcased some of the objects and findings from the Diving Deep: HMS Invincible 1744 archaeological excavation, probably the most important of its kind in UK waters for nearly 40 years.

The British Museum and the Marsh Charitable Trust have been working in partnership for the thirteenth year of the ‘Volunteers for Museum Learning’ award which recognises the hugely important contribution that volunteers make to help museums engage with their visitors. Celebrating the time volunteers have given in the previous year is particularly pertinent as teams and individuals continued to provide support throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.

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