New Futures for Birmingham`s Historic Buildings

Volunteering for Birmingham Conservation Trust

Posted August 24th, 2014 by Sarah Hayes with No Comments


Supporters and volunteers at a recent 'pub' quiz and film night at The Coffin Works.

Supporters and volunteers at a recent ‘pub’ quiz and film night at The Coffin Works.

Louise has been volunteering with us for two years now and is an integral part of our team. Here, she explains why she loves working for the Trust and in particular her involvement with The Coffin Works’ project! Hopefully, she’ll inspire more people to join us. Thanks, Louise!

I first volunteered for Birmingham Conservation Trust for Heritage Open Day 2012. On that particular day I greeted visitors who’d come to see Newman Brothers’ Coffin Works. I also stewarded tours around the factory. Over the next nine months I stewarded a further three tours: Halloween, Christmas and Easter.

I also took on the role of Social Events Co-ordinator; arranging visits for volunteers to other heritage properties such as Highbury Hall and Winterbourne House and Gardens. However, with the Coffin Works closing for restoration mid 2013, I was keen to play a part in its development and interpretation.I volunteered to join the research team. The main aspect I have been researching is the post-Newman generation of workers. With the interpretation set in the nineteen sixties, the main focus has been the last owner of the factory, Joyce Green. Although she joined the company at the age of eighteen as an office worker, over the next fifty years she worked her way up to Company Director and sadly had to close the factory in 1999. Very recently my research culminated with discovering the record of her death in 2009. Having worked on the research over the last nine months I have now produced a document that will be used for tour guide training.

The discovery of Dolly’s bag!

I have also assisted the Collections and Exhibition Manager, Sarah with the Coffin Works collection. Being part of this has really made the research come to life for me. Assisting with conservation cleaning a couple of weeks ago a fellow volunteer, Neville discovered a former employee’s name written on the underside of a stool. Seeing a familiar name on an object from the factory and knowing a little about their time at Newman Brothers was fantastic.


Joyce Beedle, who worked in the Warehouse was seemingly very protective of her stool and even marked her name on it. If you look hard enough, you can make out the writing. 

As part of my research I read oral history transcripts where former workers, including Miss Green talk about their experiences at the factory. In one of these interviews Dolly Dunsby, who managed the Warehouse and worked at the factory for sixty years, is described as ‘mother, sister, aunty. All things to everybody…and a really wonderful person’. During my last visit to the collection to help with accessioning, Sarah opened one of the 800 boxes to discover Dolly’s handbag! This object, although not directly linked to what was produced in the factory is my favourite piece, as for me it brings the story to life!



Mock-up of what the displays will look like.

 In the upcoming weeks, along with other volunteers I will be joining Sarah as she begins interpretation in the Coffin Works. Helping to dress the rooms, such as the Shroud Room and Office as the collection comes home, will be a fantastic experience after being involved with the project for so long. I cannot stress enough how rewarding it has been to volunteer for Birmingham Conservation Trust and how many opportunities it has opened up for me within heritage and museums. I have loved every minute!

Louise Deakin

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