Volunteering at the Royal Commission: a personal experience by Brian Malaws
Our second volunteer contribution comes from our former colleague Brian Malaws. He’s been enhancing a very popular group of sites in Coflein:
Having spent an enjoyable 38 years with the Commission, during which I seemed to have done most jobs and have been involved with all periods of archaeology, I retired in July 2015. The last post I held was that of Database Content Manager, and it reinforced my long-held opinion that the Commission’s main purpose was to make an inventory of historical sites and ancient monuments. My personal interests had been turning towards industrial archaeology for some time and I realised that there were many ways that the records in the inventory, or database, could be enhanced. As a result I began to gather information for a spectacularly unachievable ‘to do’ list. As retirement approached, I regretted that I was going to have to say goodbye to my colleagues, some of whom I had known for a very long time, and who together made what I thought of as a happy Commission ‘family’. I welcomed the opportunity to return to the Commission as a volunteer, and at the same time do something useful that no-one else would probably ever have the time to do – enhancing specialist sites in the NMRW database by making a start on my mammoth list.
One of my most recent interests is in signal boxes, and I managed to borrow a sizeable collection of photographs, most of which were long-closed sites, which nevertheless I thought we should have details of in the database. So it was just under a year ago I started my second career at the Commission, by now moved into its new home at the National Library, as a signal box ‘anorak.’ The work consists of scanning the old photographs, (only about 2000!) identifying their location using the wonderful Geographic Information System (GIS) facility, identifying the design of signal box and compiling a site description. Not exactly glamorous, but if you don’t have reliable data in the first place others can’t do wizzy exciting things with it. All the data goes straight onto the database so the information is available to the public as it progresses, and in due course I’ll be uploading many of the photographs. When asked years ago, why are you recording all these ancient sites and buildings? I said the usual about conservation, interpretation, understanding and so on, but experience has shown that people use our information for an infinitely wide and fascinating range of purposes.
I very much appreciate that the work I am doing will be kept properly, and theoretically for ever; I am in a privileged position knowing that the information I gather is not disappearing into a private collection which may be destroyed, sold or become unreadable as technology moves on.
The social side of volunteering is rewarding. While most of my colleagues are busier than ever they still make time to stop and have a ‘catch-up’ on latest events with me. I am lucky that I can concentrate on the work I really enjoy. It is an amazing working environment to be a part of; long may it continue, and I hope I do too.
Brian Malaws 20 June 2017
If you’d like to see the results of Brian’s work, please follow this link: http://www.coflein.gov.uk/en/site/search/result?PCLASSSUB=71193&SEARCH_MODE=COMPLEX_SEARCH
If you’d like more information on volunteering with the Commission, please see the volunteer page on our website.