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.
BY ROGER GOLLICKER, VOLUNTEER