The museum is being readied to exhibit the renowned Scottish Diaspora Tapestry for the first time after its worldwide tour.
Volunteers are needed to help supervise the exhibition and welcome visitors back after a long lockdown closure. Staff are hoping that people will sign up to assist for the full run of the exhibition, until September 13 2021, but say volunteering can be flexible to allow people to take part.
Threads connecting Scots after year of separation
The special exhibition, the Stories of Scots Abroad will showcase the links Scots have with the rest of the world using the 300-panel Scottish Diaspora Tapestry.
After a year of separation and isolation due to the pandemic, the unity of Scots in this tapestry seems like a poignant and appropriate celebration with which to emerge from lockdown.
It was illustrated by Andrew Crummy, who designed the Great Tapestry of Scotland. He illustrated the outlines for the tapestry’s linen panels, which communities around the globe then embroidered using their own techniques and colours.
Verdant Works volunteer and former Dundee mill worker Lily Thomson, 81, says she is “desperate” to get back into the museum and hopes the exhibition will be popular.
“I hope it’s a big success,” she says. “A lot of people have worked hard on it.”
The tapestry will be displayed in the striking three-storey 1833 High Mill Gallery at Verdant Works.
Fellow volunteer, Rhoda Sinclair Miller, 73, says she is “delighted” the museum is showcasing the tapestry as the High Mill Gallery is “a fitting venue” for the piece.
“The tapestry celebrates Scotland’s contribution to the world, and jute and linen played such an important role in the shaping of the 19th and 20th century, world,” she explains.
“It covered the wagons of the early American pioneers, made sails of battle ships – including Trafalgar. It even made linoleum, carpets, sacks.
“So this is a fitting venue.”
Volunteering in the time of Covid
It’s no secret that Covid-19 has changed the landscape of community activities all over Scotland. As organisations begin to reopen after lockdown, a mass call for volunteers is battling people’s new instinct to “Stay At Home”.
Craig Ferguson, head of operations and advice at the National Trust for Scotland, admitted that in a broader sense, “some volunteers may feel unsure about being out in public spaces again”.
However, he commended volunteers who have kept up their enthusiasm and generosity throughout the pandemic.
“It’s fantastic that so many have stuck with us over the past year and are really keen to get back out to our places, ” he said. “Their role in helping us protect Scotland’s heritage is vital.”
As Verdant Works reopens after lockdown, the team are keen to ensure all visitors and volunteers can enjoy a safe and reassuring museum experience. The venue was awarded “Good To Go” status from VisitScotland last year, confirming they are a Covid-secure venue.
And although most of the current volunteers are retirees – and therefore in higher-risk age categories – the museum has succeeded in making them feel safe.
I know that Dundee Heritage Trust will take all steps possible to ensure the health and safety of volunteers, staff and visitors, so I would hope there will be no problem in recruiting new volunteers.”
Rhoda Sinclair Miller, volunteer
Rhoda, who has been a volunteer guide at Verdant Works for five years, expects Covid will change some aspects of her role. She has not had any training yet, but she isn’t worried.
“Having had both my vaccinations, I am quite relaxed about returning to guiding. Also, all of our role can be carried outside, in the courtyard, so there’s very little risk,” she says.
“It’s hard to guess how others will feel about volunteering, but I know that Dundee Heritage Trust will take all steps possible to ensure the health and safety of volunteers, staff and visitors, so I would hope there will be no problem in recruiting new volunteers.”
And Lily, who has volunteered at Verdant Works for 24 years, “can’t wait” to get back to her post, saying the community at the museum has kept her going.
“I’m desperate to get back. My husband and I, 24 hours a day, seven days a week? Never! We’re 55 years married!” she jokes.
Where Rhoda acts as a guide, Lily demonstrates the mill machines, drawing on her real-life experience as a weaver in Dundee’s mills.
My whole family were jute mill workers – so for once in my life, I know what I’m talking about!”
Lily Thomson, volunteer and former weaver
For her, the daily routine of volunteering won’t change much, and it’s clear that she gets more out of it the role than lockdown could take away.
“I can work all the machines. And I learned all the machines because it’s Dundee’s history, you know?
“Dundee was always full of jute mills. My whole family were jute mill workers – so for once in my life, I know what I’m talking about!”
She goes on: “I just love it. You can meet people from all over the world – and I have. As you can imagine, they come from all over looking for their ancestors; some who were spinners, some winders, some weavers… it’s amazing the people you meet.”
At a loose end?
And Lily stresses that volunteering isn’t just for retirees – it can be a welcoming environment for anyone, especially after the loneliness of lockdown.
“The majority (of volunteers) are retired, but we’re trying to get younger people in, so we can keep it going. We want to pass on our knowledge.”
Lily also points out that the pandemic has left many with extra time on their hands due to unemployment or illness.
“Some people are bound to wonder what to do,” she says. “A lot of people have lost their jobs and they’ve got nothing to do. And it doesn’t matter what you are – everyone (at Verdant Works) is the same, there’s nobody any higher than anyone else.
“We’re just all volunteers.”
Anyone interested in helping with this project, or who would like more information, is asked to contact Mel Ruth Oakley at email@example.com or leave a message on 01382 309060.