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Volunteers celebrated at Highwic

Volunteers celebrated at Highwic


Highwic, the Heritage New Zealand property in Newmarket, is celebrating National Volunteer Week [June 16-21].

“Without our team of dedicated volunteers we wouldn’t be able to achieve half of what we’re able to do at Highwic,” says Visitor Services Coordinator, Christiane Pracht.

“National Volunteer Week is the perfect opportunity for us to say thanks.”

A team of 30 volunteers helps keep Highwic ticking – whether it’s maintaining the beautiful gardens that have been faithfully recreated, providing specialist cleaning skills for collection items, or sharing the story of the 152-year-old house to bring alive the stories of people who once lived here.

Volunteers help us do all of this according to Christiane.

“Every one of our volunteers is an essential part of our operation. We’re really proud that they have chosen Highwic as a place to volunteer, and are awed by the amazing range of skills that they bring,” she says.

Volunteers enable staff to do more, freeing up other resources to go further so more people can appreciate our heritage. They’re a vital addition to our team that enables our whole operation to really shine.

One group of volunteers has signed up for an extended hands-on training on how to care for the many antiques and precious Collection items that furnish Highwic. They are being trained by internationally experienced conservator Madelaine Abey-Koch – who is also a Highwic volunteer.

Typically modest, the volunteers didn’t want to be singled out as they see themselves as part of a wider team – but were happy to talk about their work at Highwic.

According to Jane, volunteering at Highwic was a great way to get “behind the ropes”.

“I have the opportunity of handling and working on many different items from glassware to furniture, and am learning to appreciate even the things that I haven’t found aesthetically pleasing.”

One of the surprising things that Jane has learned is that the best cleaning agent for sprucing up carved wood on furniture is saliva applied on a cotton wool swab.

“I now feel I am connected to some of the furniture in the house in a DNA kind of way!” she says.

Heather, another member of the conservation team, says working in such a historic home makes even housework enjoyable. Shelia agrees: “It’s quite an experience.”

For Vanessa, one of the most interesting projects was cleaning the fireplaces and mantels: “It took a long time, my knees would ache and I would get rather mucky, but the outcome was rewarding – and it made me think about how this would have been a frequent chore in the past for this house and others,” she says.

Other volunteers, like Bev, Jill and Jenny act as the face of Highwic. They love meeting and greeting Highwic’s visitors and sharing with them the story of the house and the Buckland family. It gives them a chance to meet and interact with people from “all walks of life” as Jenny puts it – and it’s a chance “to give back to the community”.

Bev agrees: “It’s always rewarding when visitors are impressed and say that Highwic is better than other places they have visited.”

Jill adds: “I enjoy coming to work in such a gracious heritage building with such wonderful gardens and grounds.”

Volunteers aren’t paid – so the fact that so many people with different skills choose to spend some of their spare time at Highwic is a huge endorsement according to Christiane, and one that is very much appreciated.

“Each and every one of our volunteers has chosen Highwic as a place to volunteer because they share the same passion about the house, the grounds and the collection it holds as our paid staff do. It is a privilege to work with such a dedicated team of volunteers and it’s one of the highlights of my job. Everyone here loves the place and enjoys looking after it and sharing the many stories surrounding the house and the objects.”

The ‘rocking horse’ story for example.

“One elderly visitor had a specific interest in the boys’ dormitory – a communal bedroom for the Buckland boys upstairs - and was particularly interested in the rocking horse on display,” says Christiane.

“When one of the volunteers asked her about it she said she was married to a descendent of Alfred Buckland who had grown up in the house and who had recently passed away. When he was a boy he had spent time on a family farm where all sorts of farming activities had taken place, which obviously captured his interest – so much so that when he got home he ‘docked’ the tail and mane of the rocking horse, which is why the horse is missing them today!”

Wendy, now retired, used to work at Highwic looking after the education programmes. She couldn’t quite let go, however, and has joined the team of gardening volunteers who help look after the beautiful heritage gardens and grounds. She just “wanted to keep in touch and continue to support a very worthwhile cause.”

Or, as Catherine puts it when asked what she likes most about volunteering at Highwic: “The people I am working with, the environment I am working in, the objects that I am working with and the results that we achieve.”

Highwic is currently looking for volunteer costumed interpreters to join the team providing information on the running of a Victorian household, including baking and cooking on the coal range, being familiar with ironing techniques and knowing how kitchen work was done in the 1800s.

“This is a hands-on role that will suit anyone interested in sharing their enthusiasm for the past, who has an interest in domestic science and who likes sharing their knowledge with interesting people from around the world,” says Christiane.

“Training is provided and job satisfaction is guaranteed!” she says.

People interested in learning more about the role can contact Christiane Pracht at cpracht@heritage.org.nz

ends

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