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As part of Volunteers’ Week 2015 Amgueddfa Cymru invited the Volunteers, Community Partners and Staff who helped to build Bryn Eryr to a special preview event.

Bryn Eryr is our newly built Iron Age Farmstead which will be open to the public in the near future. Our volunteers and staff have helped with all elements of this build; from mixing clay to make the walls, to making nettle rope, to threshing spelt and even thatching the roof! They have been busy building this farmstead for the last 12 months, in preparation for the thousands of visitors and school children who will come to experience what life might have been like in the Iron Age.  

Our Bryn Eryr celebration was a great chance for everyone to bring family and friends, and even their dogs to see the outcome of all their hard work. Our learning department held activities for everyone to get involved in. There was copper beating, rope making and wool spinning, so everyone learnt a new skill and had fun in the process. This gave us a great chance to trial these activities before Bryn Eryr opens officially.

This marked the end of Amgueddfa Cymru’s Volunteers’ Week celebrations and as a final note we would like to thank everyone who has volunteered with us, either as an individual, in a group or to the 1025 visitors who last summer helped us make nettle rope, without your ongoing support we wouldn’t have achieved this.

We've been celebrating volunteering this week as part of Volunteers' Week (1-7 of June 2015) and a big part of this for us at Amgueddfa Cymru is saying Diolch/Thank you to the people who volunteer their time with us. To say thank you this year we decided to throw a Garden Party at St Fagan's Castle, unfortunately it was raining so we ended up with a Tea Party instead!

We had bunting, flowers and a pop-up exhibition celebrating all the projects volunteers volunteer on across Amgueddfa Cymru. This included rope out of nettles, Celtic tools and booklets on the torture of witches.

 During the event our Deputy Director Mark Richards presented our Investing in Volunteers award, which we have achieved for all of our Museums across Amgueddfa Cymru, to the people who take part and are the reason behind the award; our volunteers, community partners and staff.

Paul and Anna, Samian Pottery Volunteers accepted the award on behalf of our volunteers across Amgueddfa Cymru, while Kat accepted it on the behalf of one of our Community Partners, Newlink Wales. Janet, Head of HBU accepted this on behalf of the staff who work with volunteers.

This was followed by tea, sandwiches and scones! Fortunately there was enough cake left that most of the staff at St Fagans were able to join in and have a scone or two... All in all a great party was had!

Our volunteers are an important part of our team at Amgueddfa Cymru, they add-value to our work, have fresh ideas and challenge us to be more creative. From all of the staff who work with you we would like to say a big DIOLCH!

To celebrate Volunteers' Week, Lydia Griffiths, a volunteer and Youth Forum member at Amgueddfa Cymru, talks about her research into British charity and voluntary action during the First World War through studying a collection of Flag Day badges at St Fagans National History Museum.

Voluntary action made a significant contribution to the First World War, not only in the numbers of soldiers who volunteered to fight but also the civilians on the Home Front who donated food and clothing in addition to providing medical and financial support. As part of my Art History Degree at the University of Bristol, I embarked on a dissertation to research a collection of Flag Day badges at St Fagans National History Museum and discovered a fascinating legacy of British voluntary action that can be traced to the present day.

Flag Day badges consist of paper and sometimes silk flags attached to metal pins that were simple to produce and sold for as little as a penny. They tended to be sold on specific days and in addition to being easily adapted to suit any cause, they were quickly and efficiently produced offering the contributor the opportunity to display their commitments to the war effort by simply purchasing and wearing a Flag Day badge. Many thousands of volunteers contributed to the war effort by selling and producing these badges which generated an impressive amount of money. It has been estimated that during the First World War, the Red Cross alone raised £22 million - the equivalent to £1.75 billion today - which included the selling of Flag Day badges.

The collection of Flag Day badges at St Fagans could be regarded as social signifiers indicative of a nation committed to supporting and helping those in need, a trend that continues today. There are hundreds of flags in the collection and all have their own specific purpose and underlying story, such as those that reference St Dunstan’s Day, a charity based in London which was set-up to help the blinded soldiers which is still functioning today under the title Blind Veteran UK. There are also many Red Cross related Flag Day badges and some bear the words ‘Our Days’ that reference a day dedicated specifically to fundraising for the Red Cross which has been described as the equivalent to our modern day Comic Relief and Children in Need.

Personally, I found the Russian Flag Day badges featuring the symbol of the Red Cross the most inspiring as they were established by a London based Russian Petroleum Scientist, Dr Paul Dvorkovitz, who wanted to improve the allied relationship between Russia and Great Britain. The archives in the Imperial War Museum currently have all his telegrams and diaries and they reveal that he proposed the idea that British towns across the country could hold ‘Russian Days,’ where Russian themed Flag Day badges would be sold to generate funds for the Russian war effort and in return certain Russian cities would hold similar English or British Flag Days to raise funds for Britain. In Wales, Welsh newspapers from the period report that many Russian Flag Days were held in Swansea and Cardiff which is why they appear in the collection at St Fagans. Nationally the movement raised £50,000 in 1916 that prompted the Tsarina to send a telegram to The Times newspaper thanking the British for their generosity.

Since the Great War, voluntary action and charities have emerged as hugely significant assets to British society and their importance has certainly not wavered. Without the work of volunteers many institutions across the country would struggle to survive and it is interesting to note that many of today’s volunteers could be viewed simply as following in the footsteps of our ancestors from the First World War who took it upon themselves to volunteer to fight, fundraise and work to ensure a better future for their country.     

Happy Volunteers Week!

LYDIA GRIFFITHS @lydiabranweng

References:

Adrian Gregory, The Last Great War: British Society and the First World War (Cambridge, 2008)

Carol Harris, '1914-1918: How charities helped to win WW1' Third Sector

Imperial War Museum Archives

Peter Grant, Philanthropy and Voluntary Action in the First World War (New York, 2014)

The Times Newspaper Archives

Last week I got the chance to go up on the roof of National Museum Cardiff to see the two Natural Sciences beehives. Since the bees arrived last year, Ben Evans and his team of trained staff from across the Cathays Park site have been responsible for the weekly maintenance of the hives. On this occasion Ben was able to sign me in as a visitor and we collected the box of beekeeping equipment and made our way up and out onto the roof. Next we put on our beekeeping gear; a half suit with an integral hat and face net and some thick gauntlet gloves. Ben lit up the smoker and waved it near the entrance of the hives to calm the bees. He then took the top off the hive and carefully pulled out the individual layers so that we could have a clear look inside. Each layer was covered in hundreds of bees and underneath we could see the beautiful hexagonal formations where the bees store their food and larvae. We also checked through each layer to locate the queen. She is marked with a green spot on her back so she can be clearly identified. The two hives are very different, in one the bees are quite subdued so Ben is feeding them with a sugary syrup to help them along.  In the other hive the bees seem very active and are starting to produce honey. I actually got to taste the honey and it was gorgeous! Ben plans to produce a beekeepers diary, so keep an eye out for further updates about the bees on our blog pages and our Twitter Feeds (@NatHistConseve or @CardiffCurator). Let’s hope they produce more honey so we can eventually sell it in the museum shop!    

With Volunteers’ Week fast approaching, many museums and galleries are busy planning events and activities to promote and celebrate the contribution of their volunteers. Here at St Fagans, volunteers play an active role in all aspects of our work. From whitewashing to thatching, rag-rug making to gardening, their skills and dedication are visible across the site.

A hundred years ago, volunteers were leaving their mark on St Fagans under very different circumstances. During the First World War, the British Red Cross opened a 70 bed auxiliary hospital in the grounds of St Fagans Castle, staffed by Voluntary Aid Detachment nurses (known as VADs) from the local area.

The VAD scheme was formed in 1909 by the British Red Cross and the Order of St John, with the intention of providing additional nursing services in the event of war. Detachments (or units) were organised at county level, with each volunteer member receiving training in first aid and basic nursing skills. The first detachment to be established in Wales was formed at St Fagans Castle, of all places, in November 1909. The following year, two hundred VAD members from the county of Glamorgan took over the grounds for a training day. A reporter from the Cardiff Times witnessed the action:

An interesting demonstration was given in a field, showing how the wounded can be carried to the rear for treatment at hospital bases. Dr Sparrow explaining how first aid can be given without special provision of splints, bandages etc. A feature of the demonstration was a spring cart, lent by James Howells and Co Cardiff, which in less than seven minutes can be improvised for twenty-four wounded soldiers under cover. [Cardiff Times 24 September 1910]

Many of the nurses who volunteered at the St Fagans Red Cross Hospital during the war joined the VAD scheme at this early stage. One of whom was Mary Ann Dodd – known as Polly. She worked as a housemaid for the Windsor-Clive family in the Castle, but also did turns of duty at the hospital, as she recalled some 40 years later:

I used to cook and clean and one day a week I did the washing. Those soldiers’ socks were in a state, many had no heels in them at all. The soldiers only laughed and teased us, and when they got better, they tried to help us.

In July, we’ll be exploring some of these personal stories on-site through music and performance. The much-anticipated culmination of the Make an Aria project (in partnership with Music Theatre Wales and the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama) will give operatic life to the men and women who lived, worked and convalesced at the Castle during the war. The Make an Aria project is a first for the Museum - we don't often experiment with musical interpretation. Book your tickets now! And of course, don't forget about the First World War online catalogue. We’ve created a ‘volunteering’ tag to pull together all the collections relating to voluntary action during the First World War, both here at St Fagans and in communities across Wales.

UPDATE! Free tickets now available for MAKE AN ARIA on 7 July 2015. Experimenting with opera and performance in the grounds of St Fagans Castle. An opportunity not to be missed. See What's On for further details.