British Motor Museum Volunteers

British Motor Museum Volunteers

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.