Friday, 13 May 2016

Sacred Space: Reflecting on the Fourteenth Warwick Parish Network Symposium "Reflecting the Parish" 7 May 2016

I am sorry that I have not written a blog entry for over a year but my time spent grieving for my mother (which is an on going process) and learning to cope with that grief and the demands of my research degree have meant that I just have not had the time to write anything and I am very sorry and apologise about this. But, I am working on - researching and writing my dissertation on "Religious Difference and Social Relations: Protestant-Catholic Relations in the Elizabethan Archdeaconry of  Chichester." and getting on with the remaining pieces of course work including a (b)log for the Research Preparation and Development module of the MRes and so have been thinking about picking up my blog again. I begin with an entry that I have written for the website produced by the Warwick Parish Network, I have recently joined and last weekend attended the Fourteenth Warwick Parish Network Symposium on "Reflecting the Parish":

Sacred Space: Reflecting on the Fourteenth Warwick Parish Network Symposium "Reflecting the Parish":

                                Above: The Hyde chapel, All Saints, Catherington, Hampshire

                                      Above: The Gage chapel, St Peter's Firle, East Sussex

This was my first Warwick Parish Network Symposium having recently joined and during discussions I had the opportunity to refer to my ongoing research at both Catherington, Hampshire and Firle, East Sussex. In a break I had a discussion with Elizabeth Norton from Kings College London (who gave a paper on “The Manor and the Parish: Local Organisation in the Sixteenth Century Through the Example of the Blount Family”) about the recusancy of John Gage the Younger as Elizabeth had touched on recusancy. In the final paper of the second session Jörg Widmaier of Eberhard-Karls-Universität, Tübingen talked about “The Gotlandic Parish: Concepts of Identity and Social Differentiation.” This included his study of the adaptation of sacred space by members of the laity in the Reformation / post-Reformation period and in the ensuing discussion I made a comment about lay appropriation of sacred space in the Hyde chapel at All Saints, Catherington, Hampshire.

I have been researching the Hyde chapel at All Saints, Catherington, Hampshire for the past 9 ½ years. I have been a member of the congregation on and off since 1978 and the consensus has always been that the Hyde chapel at All Saints is the oldest part of the church. In the C11th the village of Catherington formed part of the hundred of Ceptune. The focus of this post is the lay appropriation of the sacred space that the two chapels discussed offer, but dating issues will be touched on where necessary. To put matters in context, the Hyde chapel is dated c. 1064 and I have proposed that it was built by Edward the Confessor to commemorate his half-brother Athelstan who held land in Catherington and who died c. 1014-1016. The arrangement of the chapel and the chancel is evidence of how the sacredness of the space was perceived in the late C11th and early C12th. There is a large bay between the Hyde chapel and the chancel, this is the largest bay in the church. To the east of this bay is a half bay and David Lloyd the co-editor of The Buildings of England: Hampshire and the Isle of Wight noted the following:

“The N arcade continues without a break into an E bay [the largest bay] opening from chancel to chapel and ends very curiously, in a further bay of about half the width of the others and correspondingly lower, although the details are similar.” (Pevsner & Lloyd: 1967, 159).

Based on my dating of the chapel to c.1064, which would give it a terminus ante quem date to the chancel and nave, I have suggested that the Norman builders of the chancel and nave sought to equate their sacred space of the chancel with that of the earlier chapel by knocking through the south wall of the chapel to the greatest extent possible which would explain why this bay is the largest in the church; especially if the chapel had been built by Edward the Confessor as this was another way of equating and legitimating their rule with that of Edward all be it at a local level.

If the sponsor for the Norman chancel and nave was Earl Roger who held the hundred of Ceptune after the conquest, then it could be argued that the equation of the chancel with the sacred space of the chapel was a form of lay appropriation. The presence of the smaller half bay to the east of the large bay is evidence of the separation of clerical and lay portals between the chapel and the chancel, given the proximity of this half bay to the east end of the chancel it is probable that this would have been reserved for exclusive use by the priest.

Above: view from the chancel of All Saints, Catherington showing the large bay and half bay in the south wall of the Hyde chapel.

Moreover, in the post-Reformation period the chapel acquired lay appropriation of its space when the tomb of Sir Nicholas Hyde of Hinton Daubnay a hamlet to the NW of Catherington who had been Lord Chief Justice and who died in 1631 was erected. In his paper, Jörg Widmaier talked about how during the Reformation and post-Reformation period the laity appropriated sacred space in the Gotlandic churches, such as in the insertion of a gallery into a chancel for the use of the local elite. In considering the former lay appropriation of the late C11th / early C12th of the chapel with the new Norman chancel, Hyde’s tomb can be seen in a similar context, abet in a funerary context.

My research into the Gage chapel at St Peter’s, Firle has revealed a similar pattern in its history to that of the Hyde chapel at Catherington. Like the Hyde chapel it lays to the north of the chancel, and to touch briefly on dating matters it is proving harder to date because there have been changes to the NW quoin column, with some of the higher quoins having been replaced at some point; whilst most of the NE quoin column is hidden by the addition of a double faced buttress of c. C18-19th date and built to prevent the chapel from collapse as it had the combined weight of the latter chancel and nave pushing against it. Also like the Hyde chapel there is a connection with Edward the Confessor, the entry in the Domesday Book for Sussex states that Edward gave Firle to Wilton Abbey (Morris:1976, 56, folio 19 a,b).

However, unlike the Hyde chapel at Catherington, it has been difficult to construct the relationship of the sacred space in the Gage chapel and the chancel, the two spaces are divided by a two bay arcade which is not only separate from the nave’s north arcade but also of a different date. In the first edition of the Buildings of England: Sussex, Ian Nairn thought the arcade between the chapel and chancel to be late Perpendicular (c.C15th-mid C16th) (Narian:1965,623), but the architectural historian Rodney Hubbuck who has visited the chapel with me believes that they are Victorian (Rodney Hubbuck Pers. Comm.). So until the dating of this arcade can be resolved it is only possible to speculate the construction of the sacred space between the Gage chapel and chancel during the middle ages. Rodney Hubbuck has also dated the stone skirt which encompasses most of St Peter’s including the east and north sides of the Gage chapel as C14th (Rodney Hubbuck Pers. Comm.), while Ian Nairn argued that the chapel was built in the C16th (Nairn: 1965,623). Further typological research into the stone skirt needs to be undertaken, but this major dating difference is noted here in order to highlight the extent of the problems in dating the Gage chapel.

In turning to the matter of the use of the Gage chapel as sacred space especially in terms of lay appropriation during the C16th and early C17th, the evidence is clearer. The chapel is dominated by the table tomb of Sir John Gage KG, a second rank Catholic courtier who died in 1557. In his will, Sir John left instructions that a chantry was to be established to commemorate him in the parish church. Chantries had of course been dissolved and abolished during the reign of Edward VI, and this instruction gives an insight into Sir John’s religious mind set indicating that perhaps he expected Mary to reinstate chantries as part of her policy to return England to its Catholic roots.

The chantry was never constructed and Sir John’s grandson, John Gage the Younger suffered 39 years persecution as a recusant, but in the 1590’s he instructed the Flemish artist Garrat (or Gerard) Johnson who was a member of the entourage of John Gage the Younger’s relative Viscount Montague (Questier:2006, 207-8) to design a table tomb for his grandparents and two smaller tombs for his parents and himself and his two wives. The plans that Johnson drew up are extant and survive at Firle Place the seat of the Gages in Firle. They are annotated around the outside with the hand written discussions between John Gage the Younger and Johnson over the design of the three tombs.

The plans provide evidence that John Gage the Younger was very specific when it came to what he wanted in these memorials to his family even specifying what design of hats his two wives should be portrayed as wearing on their images on the memorial brass on their tomb. The plans show that the east elevation of the table tomb of Sir John and his wife Dame Philippa would have had an inscription, which points to the tomb originally being placed in the centre of the chapel. It has since been re-located to the SE corner of the chapel, probably in the C19th to make space in the chapel either for a poor school that Lady Gage established or to accommodate the organ box when the organ box was inserted into the western bay of the two bay arcade between the chapel and chancel (the presence of the organ box in this location is another obstacle to dating the arcade and evaluating the relationship of the sacred spaces of the chapel and chancel in the middle ages). The discussion between John Gage the Younger and Johnson as recorded on these plans therefore provide primary evidence of how John Gage the Younger sought to appropriate this sacred space for the lay commemoration of his family. I have suggested that despite the many years that he was persecuted both financially and through imprisonment for his obstinate recusancy in having these tombs built in the chapel and in particular the grand tomb of his grandparents that he probably saw himself as fulling his grandfather’s wish and whilst not a chantry commemoration one that fitted in with the current culture of commemoration for funerary monuments (Winslade: 2012: 19-25).

My research into these two chapels is ongoing, but to date I have been able to construct an outline of lay appropriation, at Catherington for both the late C11th / early C12th and early C17th. At Firle research is on-going into both the appropriation and application of sacred memory to the spaces of the Gage chapel and chancel for the late C11th / C112th and the late C16th / early C17th.


Morris, J., (ed.), Domesday Book Sussex (Chichester: Philimore, 1976)

Pevsner, N & Nairn, I, The Buildings of England: Sussex (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1967)

Questier, Michael, Catholicism and Community in Early Modern England: Politics, Aristocratic Patronage and Religion c. 1550-1640 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006)

Winslade, Hàìghlèàgh, The Gage Family of Firle, East Sussex, c. 1503-1650. Prosopography, Politics, Religion & Recusancy. (Chichester: University of Chichester unpublished BA dissertation, 2012)

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

A Sad Time....

This is my first blog entry in over a year. In July last year my mother suffered a ruptured duodenal ulcer. Sadly whilst receiving treatment for this she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. In October she underwent a hysterectomy and after being readmitted 3 days after dis-charge for a chest infection and bladder infection she finally returned home on October 31st. We had a lovely Christmas together but sadly she suffered a fall on January 18 this year and fractured a vertebra in her neck. Whilst in hospital she developed Congestive Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). She smoked for just under 40 years between the ages of 15-54 and although she quit for good in 1980 the smoking had damaged her lungs. High blood pressure for many years meant that she ended up with atrial fibrillation and needed to take an anti coagulant medicine Warfarin. It was the Warfarin that caused the duodenal ucler. She had to stop taking the Warfarin not only to prevent a further bleed but also in preparation for the surgery. Post operation her GP decided not to re start the anti coagulant treatment. So along with the COPD a heart echo revealed a large blood clot in one of the chambers of her heart. I managed to have a few good hours with her the day before she passed away which was at 7.15pm on Tuesday 3rd February this year. I have managed to keep up my academic research and decided that returning to write my blog was a good step to take at this point especially as I am about to attend a graduate school development programme workshop on "Getting Published on the Web".

I am, no longer at Southampton. Despite my mother's illness last summer I soldiered on with the Latin but the lack of scribal support meant that I failed the module. I changed to Portsmouth University where I had began my post grad studies in 2001 on the MSc in Museum and Heritage Studies sadly interrupted by my mother's bowel cancer in 2003. I enrolled on the MRes (Master of Research) in Humanities and Social Sciences in September. I am about 3/4 of the way through the first year and am just beginning preliminary research on my dissertation looking at legal disputes between Protestant clergy and Catholic laity in the Archdeaconry of Lewes in Sussex during the reign of Elizabeth I. I was most fortunate in that Portsmouth took the credit - 30 credits from the core module that I completed last year at Southampton as the 2nd module of this 3 module course the subject specialism module is also 30 credits so they took the Southampton credit as CAT/APL - Credit Accumulation Transfer or Accredited Prior Learning. So I am only undertaking 2 modules the research preparation and development module and the dissertation. I am thoroughly enjoying the course!   

Monday, 7 April 2014

A Big Failure But Better Late Than Never :( !

Well I set myself the task of blogging on a regular basis and have FAILED - no posts since October :( ! My MA studies which are part time have taken all my time BUT they have given me plenty of material to write about so on excuses I need to start blogging again !!!!!!

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Graduation University of Chichester Saturday 5th October 2013

I have set myself the goal of writing at least one blog entry each week and to kick off thought that I would write about my graduation today from the University of Chichester where I have been studying for a BA in History with Theology and Religions.

Today was a lovely sunny and warm day. I met up with my friend Mandy from the Theology course and we caught the shuttle bus to the Chichester Festival Theatre. We then met up with my other friend Helen and took our seats in the Theatre in the Park. The Vice Chancellor, Professor Clive Behagg began and ended proceedings with two inspiring speeches in which he told the story of an old lady who had been a WAAF at Bishop Otter Campus during the run up to and D. Day. The lady had visited the Bishop Otter Campus and told Professor Behagg what life was like in the command centre which was located in room E124 and how herself and a friend and colleague met in the doorway to E124 whilst changing shift at just past midnight on June 5th 1944 and how they realised that this was it the invasion had began and that in that moment the reality of what they were doing dawned on them. Until then life had been quite good, away from home meeting new friends a bit like being at university. Professor Behagg said that he wanted every graduand to take a piece of room E124 away with them and to remember what the men and women stationed on the Bishop Otter Campus during those dark days were fighting for – for our today, our future and our freedom. I had many history lectures in E124 and would always look at the plaque up on the wall, which commemorated the role of E124 as a command room in the D. Day events.

I am so glad that my two friends Helen and Mandy came with me I am so lucky to have them as friends. A great day was had by all- graduands, friends and family and Chichester staff. Professor Behagg noted that some of the professional support staff from the university volunteered to help with the graduation ceremonies a big thank you to all staff who helped and not forgetting Mark Mason who performed as orator flawlessly reading everyone’s names out and even pronounced my surname correctly in its Old English!

Friday, 21 June 2013

A story of Archaeology and Greek culture that I could not put down!

I started reading Travels in Elysium by William Azuski on a cold and wet spring day it proved to be the perfect tonic for such a dismal day. Travels in Elysium is the story of former student Nicholas Pedrosa who lands a position as assistant to archaeologist Marcus Huxley on Huxley's excavations of the lost settlement on the Greek island of Santorini (Thera) destroyed by the colossal eruption that occurred c. 3600 years ago during the time of the Minoan civilization.

Mr Azuski is a master at setting the scene and placing the characters and action in the landscape. After describing Nicholas Pedrosa's journey across Europe and the graphic account of the treacherous storm that blew up as the ship that he was travelling in crossed the Aegean Sea, on landing on Satorini the other main characters are introduced when Nicholas Pedrosa becomes entangled in the funeral procession of Benjamin Randal his predecessor who died on the excavation in mysterious circumstances. The funeral also provides the opportunity to introduce one of the main themes in the novel that of the Grecian burial rite of placing a silver coin in the mouth of the deceased to pay the boatman Charon for their journey across the river Styx to the afterlife.

The narrative of the excavation is cleverly entwined with the mythology of the afterlife and there is a good twist in the plot. Without giving anything away my favourite scene was where Nicholas Pedrosa is in Charon's boat and his barrage of questions and remarks to Charon about the journey across the Styx results in Charon pushing Pedrosa from his boat into the river! All in all an excellent book which I could not put down and a recommended read for anyone interested in Greek culture!

Travels in Elysium is published by Iridescent Publishing and is available from Amazon:

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Enjoying being on the edge at the Greenbelt Festival 2012

As a Christian partly due to my theological beliefs I have always been on the edge of the Church of England. When I was in my early 20’s I studied at King Alfred’s College now the University of Winchester and attended my church, All Saints Catherington on a Sunday when I was home for the weekend. When I rolled up at KAC in 1988 a debate was raging over the establishment of a gay society in the Students Union with the College being a Church of England College there was much opposition to the society’s establishment. On the home front our then vicar Tina Beardsley got up in the pulpit one Sunday in November 1989 when the church was in the middle of the Alpha course and informed the congregation that she had realised that God still loved her even though she was gay. I can only repeat this as I was not present at the time being on retreat with the college chapel down at Hillfield Friary the HQ of the Anglican Franciscan movement in Dorset. The house group that I was in was very sensible and was led by the late Alan Richards who Tina Beardsley called her “left hand” after Alan’s sad death in 1991, and made no fuss over this revelation whatsoever. The late 1980’s was a time of much discussion in the C of E over the inclusion or rather the exclusion of gay people from the church and the priesthood and the ordination of women in the church. So between the KAC SU and my house group I lived in two environments where there was no big issue or big deal in other members of the church having different sexual orientations and I had no problem accepting that the church and wider society was made up of different people with different beliefs and orientations and that all should be included.

Secondly as someone with a disability I have myself experienced much discrimination throughout my life and this has also shaped my attitude to other minority groups in the church and wider society seeking to understand them and support their cause. I came to know the Rev Peter Owen Jones through my research into the Gage chapel at St Peter’s church in the village of Firle, East Sussex. Pete is a very forward thinking person he is not afraid to explore new ideas and lives on the edge of Christianity interacting with non-Christian people and beliefs. Knowing Pete Owen Jones has caused much criticism to be thrown at me by other Theology students at Chichester whose beliefs range from straight laced high church Anglican for whom there is only the Book of Common Prayer and no other liturgy to Pentecostal Christians. What they share in common over this criticism is their view that Pete holds heretical views and who have labelled me a heretic by my association with him.
I have come to realise that it is these Christians who are holding the church back. Over the issue of gay marriage they will not budge. Recently one of the now former Chichester students who is Pentecostal criticised gay marriage on Facebook and when I asked them what is equality the reply was that equality for everyone is right but it should not include gay marriage. On booking my ticket to Greenbelt 2012 I told the curate at my church a few Sundays ago at coffee after the service that I was going this year and that the plan was to buy Pete Owen Jones and Diarmaid MacCulloch a drink in the Jesus Arms after their talks to say thank you for the help that they have given me with my history dissertation and how the Pentecostals and other students at Chichester have criticised me for my association with Pete. Her reply was that they should look at who Jesus kept company with – the down and outs and unwashed of society but then on informing her about the views that the Pentecostal student published about gay marriage on Facebook she promptly changed her tune and informed me that marriage is sacred and only between a man and a woman. At this year’s Greenbelt Pete’s talk was on “The New Christianity” and in it Pete touched on how the C of E is fixed on the arguments over the ordination of women, gay clergy and homosexual sex as “like a record that has got stuck”. I think that at present we have a canon of equality legislation that has been cherry picked it is not fully encompassing in equality because it is not comprehensive it does not fully implement disability rights and excludes full and equal marriage rights for gay people.
Pete talked about how western Christianity promotes the individual at the expense of the planet, how he met a group of people in the Lewes area who believe that humanity now stands at a crossroads as it did 10,000 years ago at the time of the agricultural revolution which like the industrial revolution after it changed humanity and the planet. Pete drew heavily on Joanna Macey’s book “Active Hope” which considers the impact of the damage that man has wrought on the planet and Pete summed up the three models or groups that Macey argues humans fall into. The first is the “Business as Usual” model/group in which continued global economic growth is encouraged and people continue to be encouraged to consume products on a mass scale where the subplot is the promotion of finding a partner, having a family and living happily ever after and where people’s lives are far removed from the ecological catastrophe that awaits humanity unless it changes its priorities and begins to think about adopting more ecological friendly policies.
The second model/group is termed “the great unravelling” this model embraces those who hold no hope for the future, and the third model/group is “the great turning point” where people do have hope for a future that humanity can change its ways and look after the planet. Pete asked the audience “Where are you? Which group are you in?” He rounded off his talk by underlining his view that Christianity must embrace the natural world and to love your neighbour means to include the natural world where people will enter paradise by appreciating the butterflies, birds and natural landscapes of our planet. He used Jesus’s parable that all of King Solomon’s finery did not compare to the wild flowers in the fields. That we have to change from the Anthropocentric structured church that we have which is promoting consumerism and driving us to the brink of environmental and social meltdown and adopt an ethos that will save our environment.
From my perspective as an archaeologist and historian I think that Pete might have been better off providing some examples from world history where societies have failed due to the way that they over abused the natural resources around them causing an environmental disaster; for example the people on Easter Island who deforested the island so severely that no tree was left standing or the systematic ecological collapse that many academics have advanced for the cause of the decline of the Maya of the Mayan classic period. Nevertheless his argument was a passionate one. Concerning western Christianity he highlighted its anthropocentric structure which promotes the individual and outlined how the church supports western society and consumerism through this structure. Consumerism is helping to drive the abuse of natural resources and the decline of the natural world  like the developments in the intensification in agricultural production terminus post quem World War II, here Pete cited the decline by 87% of the butterfly population in the fields around Cheltenham. I think that he could also have underlined the point that since the Millennium some scientists have called for a new epoch called the Anthropocene due to the advent of global warming and other environmental and ecological changes that have happened on earth due to the activities of man.
What also needs to be considered is that whilst there has been a rapid increase in the numbers of non-stipendiary ministers in the C of E due to the ordination of women, the church still has a duty to financially support its retired clergy who held a stipend and their spouses in their retirement. Stipendiary clergy often do not own their own homes and live in church property. The C of E has an infrastructure of social care which includes support for its retired clergy including care homes and needs capital income to support this infrastructure let alone income to conserve and protect the fabric of its historic buildings. At the end of the talk during the questions a member of the audience pointed out that although Pete had highlighted these issues he had not put forward any solutions. Any solution to the development of a society that is not based on mass consumerism and the destruction of our natural world has to consider how organisations like the C of E are going to fund social care for its retired members. Pete did attempt to live without money in his series “How to Lead a Simple Life” I know myself that it is perfectly possible to live without a credit card and debt on just what money you have coming in perhaps this is the first step to moving away from a consumer orientated society.

I bumped into Pete later whilst looking for my Renault 5 Henri Tudur II in the car park and he was telling me that in reading my dissertation he is finding it all very Machiavellian leaving him with questions about the events that the Gages encountered during the 16th and early 17th centuries. My recent history dissertation on: “The Gage Family of Firle, East Sussex, c. 1503-1650. Prosopography, Politics, Religion and Recusancy.” has led me to consider the effects of the persecution of heretics in the 16th and 17th centuries. Sir John Gage KG and his sons Edward and James were involved in the persecution of the Protestant Sussex martyrs during the persecutions of the reign of Mary Tudor. The topics covered in my dissertation are to be expanded and studied in more detail for my planned book on Firle and one issue that I want to explore more closely is the effect that the persecutions and burnings had on Sussex society. During the reign of Elizabeth I the Gages were persecuted heavily for their recusancy and many historians have concluded that this was due to their central role in the Marian persecutions in Sussex. The great 19th century Sussex Antiquarian Mark Anthony Lower noted that “It may be inferred from the statements of John Foxe that he [Edward Gage] did this ‘ministerially’; that he showed as I have elsewhere stated much courtesy to Richard Woodman” and that the Gages “suffered far more from their consistency to their own creed than from the Protestants ever suffered from them” [Mark Anthony Lower: ‘Notes on Old Sussex Families’ Sussex Archaeological Collections Vol. XXIV 1872; The Worthies of Sussex 1865]. Lower has been credited with creating the cult of the Sussex Martyrs in the 19th century.
Coincidentally on Saturday evening BBC Radio 3 had a programme the “Last Heretic” about Edward Wrightman who was the last person to be burned at the stake for holding heretical beliefs in 1612. Diarmaid MacCulloch, (with whom I had a cup of tea and chat after Pete had to pull out of the planned drink in the Jesus Arms due to the rescheduling of his Friday talk to Saturday afternoon and our decision that the Jesus Arms was far too muddy to enjoy a drink there) featured in this programme. Diarmaid explained why heretics were perceived to be so dangerous to society due to the view that their heretical beliefs were considered to hurt society and the fact that they as an individual endured an extremely painful death through being burnt alive was given no consideration, the emphasis being on the hurt endured by society from the heresy committed. Diarmaid argued that it was the untidy nature of Wrightman’s case (he was burnt at the stake twice recanting his views at the first occasion the flames were extinguished and he was given a reprieve only to refuse to give a full recantation which led to his second burning) that put those in authority off the practice of burning heretics thus leading to Wrightman being the last heretic burned in England.
I will continue to be labelled by others as holding heretical theological views, but I enjoy life at the edge of the church it is far more interesting!
Pete Owen Jones talk on “The New Christianity” can be purchased from the Greenbelt website:
And Diarmaid’s discussion about the Last Heretic – Edward Wrightman can be heard on BBC iPlayer:

Monday, 6 August 2012

Miss Caitlin Reilly, the DWP/JobcentrePlus and Poundland. A nail in the coffin of volunteering in museums.

Miss Caitlin Reilly and the issue of her forced work placement in the chain store Poundland whilst claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance. Not wishing to detract from the issues concerning the legal arguments of the case, the facts in this case illustrate the limited vision of the DWP/JobcentrePlus when it comes to voluntary work. Miss Reilly is right in her observation that the DWP/JobcentrePlus fail to see volunteering in a museum as a valid and commendable route into employment. They perceive museums and the heritage sector as the preserve of the middle class and volunteering in them as a comfy task more akin to something undertaken in one’s leisure time or as a hobby, and therefore not qualifying as working towards a goal of paid employment. 

I have a physical disability and have had many dealings with the DWP/JobcentrePlus. I am also am archaeologist who has volunteered within museums and as a lecturer in the further education sector I have been involved in teaching students within a museum environment. Museums and the heritage sector are not the preserve of the middle class, when I was an archaeology student in the 1980’s I was a volunteer digger at Fishbourne Roman Palace in West Sussex. I dug alongside people who were undertaking archaeological placements as part of the then Manpower Services Commission scheme for unemployed and who came from all walks of life the only common denominator being that they were on the MSC scheme by virtue of their unemployment. This scheme worked very well and led to careers in the archaeological field and in museums for unemployed people. Volunteering in a museum is not a comfy or easy option; it is hard work which requires the volunteer to possess many skills. Museums are powerhouses of learning they play a vital role in education not just for children but for people of all ages and volunteers are their lifeblood.

 I have also worked as a volunteer at what is often perceived to be the hard end of volunteering as a Citizens Advice Bureau advisor and in my experience volunteering in a museum is just as an important role to society as undertaking C.A.B. work. A policy that museum volunteering does not count from the governmental department and agency tasked with securing employment for the unemployed if continued to be pursued over the long term will I fear be a nail in the coffin of volunteering in museums and the heritage sector in general. Furthermore until the DWP/JobcentrePlus realise that all forms of volunteering are beneficial to the securing of long term employment including volunteering in a museum their various work schemes will continue to fail.