A Coloured Thread



This week the Heritage Bulletin Blog comes to you in the form of our first podcast.  Have a listen to Matthew McMurray talking about his inspiration for the archive's upcoming (2018) museum exhibition and journey to get there.



For those who can't listen to the podcast, which I modestly recommend, the transcript is below.

This last week I have been putting together my first ever museum exhibition plan and it’s fascinating how the approach of museums differs from that of archives. I had merrily sat down with the idea that I was going to come up with a story, nice and ordered and linear and then write some beautiful text and add some nice pictures; What my colleague rather inelegantly called the ‘book on the wall’ approach. This though, to misquote Mr Punch is ‘not the way to do it’!

Some research later and some sage advice from those with more experience than my none in museum exhibition design and I was trepidatiously ready to begin.

The key, apparently, with any museum exhibition is to start from the objects, let them tell your story. Hmmm I thought to myself as I visualised the towers of several million pieces of paper in our strong rooms and rather fewer objects and felt despondent.

While as an archivist I love nothing more than reading reams of text (preferably with footnotes) apparently not everyone else does, Horror I thought.

Visual impact is unsurprisingly the order of the day, with interactive displays for different levels of understanding from children to adults, short and sweet descriptions (in 25-30 words) and constant repetition. As a lover of detail, as someone who prefers to use ten words when one will do, and also someone who makes every effort to use the English language in all its glory, how was I going to inculcate my audience to the amazing work of the Royal Voluntary Service with so few words.

The answer was a single thread. Most great enterprises come from a small idea, and as a colleague said rather poetically in an e-mail today, quoting the 14th century proverb ‘Great oaks from little acorns grow’.

Much like a tin of Ronseal paint, Royal Voluntary Service has always done what it says on the tin, provided ‘Voluntary Service’. Our founder Lady Reading, whose portrait stares down and scrutinises my every action here in the archive, was the epitome of that ideal which she championed all her life with a zeal most could never hope to match. I have read volumes of her speeches, letters and writing and I find myself repeating her grand eloquent style frequently, in-fact this podcast is becoming a good example. But my point here is that a single bright thread came into my mind and I pulled at it.

In her 1970 treatise entitled simply ‘Voluntary Service’ she said

“Voluntary Service is a coloured thread in the fabric of a Nation and without that thread the fabric is neither as beautiful nor as strong as it should be”


That single coloured thread is literally going to run through my exhibition joining disparate activities and ideas into a story of voluntary service over 80 years; joining objects from wartime uniforms to models of Atlantic longboats and medals denoting a thousand years of service beyond self.

That single thread now has a lot to answer for and the ideas are coming thick and fast.


Posted by Matthew McMurray - Royal Voluntary Service Archivst at 09:00 Monday, 16 October 2017.

Labels: Royal Voluntary Service, Podcast, Museum, Heritage Bulletin Blog, Coloured thread

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