British Motor Museum Volunteers

British Motor Museum Volunteers

Monday 27 March 2023

Volunteer Update and News - March 2023

Our last blog was dedicated to Sonja Dosanjh, who retired as our Volunteer Coordinator after a 17-year association with the Museum. So, we’ll start this one by welcoming our new Coordinator, Hannah Leese, who takes over the mantle of looking after the 92 strong volunteer work force. Hannah, a native of Devon, studied Film & TV production at university and has been working at the Museum since 2016. She started in the Marketing Department, but then in 2019 took on the role of HR Coordinator, which now encompasses this additional role.

At the end of last year, 18 volunteers received their 10-year service awards from Museum MD Jeff Coope. All were from the initial intake of 30 volunteers, recruited during the summer of 2012. As explained in our last blog, vehicle inspection and recording data were the first tasks undertaken, before the new Collections Centre came on stream.

However, since then volunteer numbers have significantly increased, as have the numerous tasks we now undertake, both inside and outside the Museum.

The bulk of the volunteer force is still very much involved with guiding and tours. Whilst this was originally just focused on the Collections Centre, as the Museum expands, we are now assisting with guiding in the main building as well. We’re also getting involved in the many special events, such as quiz nights, car gatherings and shows that the Museum regularly puts on.

Four volunteers are still involved in vehicle data collection and recording, as the Museum collection constantly grows with new acquisitions. A more recent sizeable acquisition was the transfer of around 50 vehicles from Vauxhall Motor’s vehicle collection, which now reside at the Museum.

A small team of volunteers continue with various restoration projects, the most recent one being the refurbishment of the large collection of display engines the Museum had in store. Their current project is the part restoration of a 1936 Rover Speed 14 - pictured below with doors removed.

Refurbish projects – the 1936 Rover and numerous display engines

The Museum’s archive section has always had a volunteer presence and the number has increased to around eight over the last few years. Recent additions to the archive collection have come from both Lucas and Vauxhall, which all need sorting and collating. It’s an interesting fact, that hardly a week goes by without someone donating something from the motor industry’s past, all of which need attention.

Recording history, literally has been largely the task volunteer, Vince Hall. Oral history is an important and always interesting part of the Museum’s mission. Vince interviews people involved in the motor industry, both past and present, many of them his fellow volunteers.

Whilst the above activities have largely been in place since the beginning, it’s the creation of what is known as the Outreach Team that has generated many of the new projects over the last couple of years. Led by Emma Rawlinson of the Learning and Engagement Team, approximately 25 volunteers are now actively involved.

One of the first projects was going out into the community, visiting care homes, dementia cafes, health and well-being groups and schools, with a large collection of motoring memorabilia. This has recently expanded during the cold spell and current economic climate, with Warm Hub centre visits, which have sprung up in the area. Not only have these been a success and a great stimulator, but they have also helped in promoting the Museum and its mission to serve the community. Some of the groups mentioned, particularly schools, also make visits to the Museum and again the volunteers assist with the tours and object handling.

Volunteers at their first Warm Hub visit

The Museum was an early contributor to the STEM project, which has now grown into STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Maths). Recent projects have included helping nearby MOD Kineton with a series of learning sessions, whilst six volunteers are currently preparing and distributing STEAM bags as part of the Community Pantry project.

Finally, we have around 18 volunteers, who over the last couple of years have been preparing and are now delivering talks on various as aspects of motoring history related to the Museum. 7 talks have now been completed and approved. They are: Wizardry on Wheels – The Mini; The Most Beautiful Car in the World – The E-Type Jaguar; From Farm to Front Line – The Land Rover; History of the British Sports Car; Evolution of the British Motor Industry; The Car’s the Star and The Crown and the Car. All run for around 45 minutes, with over 60 relevant and interesting slides for most talks. All talks can now be booked, for delivery at an outside venue, or at the Museum.

It is hoped most, if not all the talks, will be delivered during the Museum’s 30th Anniversary week - 14th to 20th August. More news on that will follow, but one thing is sure, the volunteers will be playing a big part during the week.

Tuesday 6 December 2022

Thank you and a happy retirement Sonja

As the year comes to an end, the volunteer team at the Museum is marking two significant milestones: the tenth anniversary of the start of the volunteer programme, and sadly, the retirement of our Volunteer Co-ordinator, Sonja Dosanjh. 

This blog is all about Sonja, whose retirement concludes a 17-year association with the Museum. It all started in 2005 and for the first five years she did part time casual work in the shop, the pay desk, and as an educational assistant. She was also running her own dog walking business at the time.
Sonja’s previous and successful career was working in backstage managerial roles in the world of theatre. In 1972 she was Assistant Stage Manager with The Cambridge Theatre Company, followed by stage management roles at The Belgrave Theatre and The Oxford Playhouse. She had a short stint at BBC Drama. In 1982 she became Company Manager at the RSC in Stratford-upon-Avon, a role that lasted for 20 years. Her career has seen her rub shoulders with some of this country’s leading actors: Sir Ian McKellen, Sir Derek Jacobi, Dame Helen Mirren and Dame Judi Dench, to name a few. 

Towards the end of 2011 the Museum’s plan to build a new Collections Centre was well underway and this included the recruitment of a team of volunteers to help run it. A volunteer co-ordinator was required and the right person, at the right time, was already working casually at the Museum! Sonja applied and was awarded the position in January 2012. 

Her first tasks were installing risk assessments, policy and procedures, as well as setting up a recruitment programme. In March 2012, the Museum took a small stand at the Classic Car Club Expo and recruited MG aficionado Brian Rainbow as its first volunteer. Other recruiting initiatives were undertaken and interviews with Sonja and the curator started in the July. An initial group of 30 volunteers was assembled by September, with its first task being to survey the Museum’s 250-plus reserve collection of vehicles. The Collections Centre was completed in November 2015, with the official opening in February 2016. 

Since then, a lot has happened and Sonja has been at the forefront of it all. We currently number 94 volunteers, all recruited, interviewed and managed by Sonja. We carry out many different roles throughout the Museum, working as Museum & Collection Centre Guides and supporting areas including oral history, archives, family & lifelong learning, restoration and vehicle data collection. 

All of our activities have been managed quietly and efficiently by Sonja, who works part-time on a flexible 3-day week as needs arise. Her main priorities have been creating and juggling monthly rotas, arranging private tours, administering expenses and logging our hours. In addition, Sonja has been instrumental in nominating the volunteers for annual awards at various local and national museum and heritage award schemes. Thanks to her efforts, we’ve been shortlisted for quite a few and in 2017, Vince Hall won an award at the West Midlands Volunteer Awards, for his oral history work. 

The Museum continues to be very generous in its support of the volunteers and this extends to providing an annual day out. Again, Sonja plays a big part, having arranged trips for us to the Land Rover factory at Solihull, Brooklands Museum, London Transport Museum and Bicester Heritage.
The last annual day out organised by Sonja – November’s trip to Silverstone Interactive Museum.

When asked what she’ll miss when she retires, the answer is very definitely all the friendships she’s made among the growing volunteer force. She always tries to meet the day’s volunteers for a morning coffee before they start and this will leave a big hole in her morning routine. She says she enjoys the many fascinating stories that emanate from volunteers past careers. 

The other question we’d all like to ask is, what will she do following retirement? As we expected, Sonja already has plans: she’s going to do some volunteering! She is exploring opportunities with The Heart of England Trust, The Canal and River Trust and the local mobile library. Also - and we volunteers may be able to help here - she’s on the lookout for a small reasonably priced camper van. She loves independent travelling and exploring. 

We’re all going to miss you Sonja and must thank you for all the behind-the-scenes work you do to make volunteering such a pleasurable experience at the Museum. We’re sure you’ll be allowed the odd free pass to pop in and see some of us occasionally, for morning coffee, in the future. 

A big thank you, on behalf of all the volunteers.


Wednesday 17 August 2022

Life in Cars

‘Life in cars’ is an inter-generational project which will help the Museum create connections with local communities and for them to engage with each other. This involves telling life stories with cars, through art.

Volunteers clay modelling cars with the elders

The Museum chose to connect with two communities, one a group of young people with autism, learning disabilities and people with other differences. They all enjoy art and creativity. The second group are the ‘Elders’ a mix of two communities, one from an African-Caribbean Dominoes group and the other, an isolation and loneliness group in an inner city. All the Elders have a story or two to tell us about life and cars!

African-Caribbean Dominoes group crafting

A team of our Volunteers have been working alongside the Museum's Life Long Learning team to collect and record stories from the Elders, for the young people to create artwork from in various mediums such as storyboarding, hand printing and ceramics.

Admiring the lino cut artworks

The finale will be an exhibition of this journey and work, to the general public which will open  in late  August 2022. The Exhibition will be a body of work encompassing the story of stories that have been embraced by the young people as artists.

Wednesday 20 July 2022

Meet our Volunteer Co-Ordinator

I’m Sonja Dosanjh and my role as Volunteer Co-ordinator involves overseeing all aspects of volunteering for the British Motor Museum. I work three days a week. I work with my colleagues across the Museum to identify Volunteer projects and to help turn them in to reality, writing role profiles (job descriptions), leading to advertising opportunities and following through with the selection and induction process.

Sonja Dosanjh on the right

Each month I produce a rota, which informs our Volunteers and the organisation of who’s doing what and where, over a seven day opening. Allocating guides for public and private tours, arranging Volunteers for special events, on and off site, making sure everyone has the correct uniform and name badge, being a listening ear and providing the always essential cake, are all in a day’s work.

There are risk assessments, procedures and policies to keep track of and application forms to absorb and act on. I record Volunteer hours and prepare an expenses spreadsheet each month. 

National Volunteers Week occurs in early June each year, giving us the opportunity to publicly thank our team. This year some short videos were made of Volunteers talking about and showing the projects they are involved with. You can watch these on our YouTube channel.

2014 Volunteers visit to the London
2014 Volunteers visit to the London Transport Museum Store

Each year I organise a Volunteers’ ‘annual outing’ to see how other places do it. We’ve had a bit of a gap with Covid but it’s returning this year, with a trip to the SS Great Britain in Bristol. Previous trips have included visits to Brooklands, London Transport Museum Stores in Acton and Birmingham Museum Stores.                            

2019 Visit to Brooklands 

2013 Volunteers with restored MGA chassis  


Tuesday 24 May 2022

Volunteer Restoration News

When the Collections Centre was opened in 2016, a review of all the exhibits in the Museum collection was carried out. This review identified display engines and chassis that would be of interest but needed to be repaired or cleaned. Today, a number of those engines are on display in the Collections Centre and many have been restored by volunteers. 

These 12 engines include an Austin-Rover S series single cylinder development unit, revised from the E series used in the Maxi and Allegro and which was probably used for combustion chamber development.

There is an interesting version of the Riley 2.5 litre, which shows its many internal parts. It was fitted to the RM model and later to the Pathfinder. With twin camshafts it was quite advanced for its time. In contrast, many cars up to the 1950s used side valve engines and another of the refurbished engines would have been found in a Triumph Mayflower. Performances have improved a lot since then, with this engine producing only 38bhp from a 1247cc block. 


Riley engine before and after restoration

The latest project is an Austin Devon chassis which started life in 1948 when the Longbridge Apprentices were given the task of producing an exhibit promoting the new car. The Devon and the Somerset that followed would be some of the last cars still employing a chassis, as this was the start of the change to monocoque construction. This chassis would travel around Britain extolling the virtues of the new model but also showcasing the engineering capabilities of the apprentices at the Longbridge factory.

In fact one of our volunteers, Cameron, remembers seeing it on display in Edinburgh in his younger days.

 The restoration work has been separated into three categories: 

1. Brakes, steering, suspension and wheels. 

2. Chassis, drive shaft and rear axle. 

3. Clutch, engine, gearbox and exhaust. 

The general condition considering its age and storage is what you would expect, with no serious rust. The main problem being the chrome of which there is a lot which is now flaking off and none of it is restorable. Cleaning and painting is underway and a challenge is to match the chassis’ original existing metallic finish paint. 


Tuesday 12 April 2022

Our Volunteer Guide Project

Our Volunteer Guide project started when the Collections Centre opened in February 2016 and the involvement of the 80 Volunteers has been vital to allowing visitors access to the collection. In fact, we could not open the building without them. 

So successful have they been in welcoming visitors, giving tours and interpreting the collection, that it was decided to introduce Volunteers onto the main Museum floor this spring, to enhance the visitor experience. 

This has meant our existing team of 80 have had to absorb details of many more vehicles and, for me, has resulted in a recruitment campaign to increase the team by 20-30 people. 

The process starts with a Role Profile posted on the website, this generates application forms, leading to an informal chat over coffee with the Curator and myself. An induction follows for those chosen, a handbook given, uniforms and name badges ordered, a “walk and talk” through the collection with Stephen, Head of Collections, and Cat, Curator, and the new team are ready to start. 

This month we welcomed 18 new Volunteers, who will be split between the Museum and Collections Centre. So, please say hello when you visit. We hope that whatever personal motivations and goals are, we can help to fulfil aspirations for volunteering through good quality training, excellent support and the opportunity to make a difference by sharing old skills and learning new ones. And, we hope, making new friendships. Giving time and skill to the Museum must be enjoyable for the Volunteer; that in turn gives enjoyment and education to all who visit the Museum while helping to preserve and protect the heritage and legacy of this great place. 

Thank you to all the Volunteers who give time to the community and to us at the British Motor Museum.


Friday 26 November 2021

Volunteer History Talks - The Most Beautiful Car in the World.

Graham Robson and Cameron Slater outside the Lord Leycester Hospital with a Series 2 E-type from the Jaguar Daimler Heritage Trust Collection.

The Jaguar E-type was sixty years old this year. Obviously, such a significant event in motoring history could not be left unmarked so the E-type became one of the series of History Talks which the Life-long Learning Team has devised. The E-type team of volunteers Roger Gollicker, Andrew Pollard, Graham Robson and Cameron Slater, faced the small problem of a deadline – the talk had to be ready for performance by 15 March – the exact anniversary of the E-type’s launch in 1961. We had about six months to do justice to this fabulous motor car and we made it – but only just. 

Very soon ‘The Most Beautiful Car in the World’ moved from being a working title for the talk to being the actual one. After rather a long Covid-affected gestation period it is difficult to remember whose idea it was to call the talk that. 

In the days when we all sat a long way away from each other, it soon became evident that there was a person at the meetings who knew a great deal about Jaguars and certainly about this one but wasn’t actually one of the presentation team! That man was Tony Merrygold, who is the Vehicle Collections Manager of Jaguar Daimler Heritage Trust (JDHT). His fund of stories showed us almost immediately that with his input, we had a real gem of a presentation. The team could happily research the facts Page 5 The Most Beautiful Car in the World and the history, but Tony’s fund of stories promised glamour, humour and real personal experiences. 

Inevitably, there were many revisions of the script - we are currently on version 16 - but it’s been a very rewarding process. The culmination of all that work was, of course, to present to a public audience. So far, we have done that twice. Once to a group of lovely people who had booked the talk as a birthday present for one of their Jaguarmad friends, via the wonders of Zoom. The second was as part of the Warwick Words Festival when we faced a live audience of about 95 people in the Great Hall of the Lord Leycester Hospital in Warwick. 

Of course, we were not alone. Emma Rawlinson and Bryony Goodwin from LifeLong Learning were always there to help and Karam Ram at JDHT was a wizard at finding the right image. We all enjoyed being part of this project and we hope our audiences get as much out of it as we did.