British Motor Museum Volunteers

British Motor Museum Volunteers

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.

Monday, 16 August 2021

Plenty of volunteer action now the Museum has reopened

 As our last blog explained, whilst the British Motor Museum (BMM) was closed during lockdown, a small group of volunteers were still busy at home preparing a number of motor related history talks. We’ll return to the talks later, but now with the easing of lockdown on 17th May and the reopening of the Museum, the whole 80 strong volunteer group is busy once again on an increasing number of activities.

Our restart coincided with National Volunteers Week and the Museum celebrated the occasion and our return by inviting all the volunteers to a thank you luncheon. At the event, 23 volunteers received their five-year service awards. Next year, to highlight the success and longevity of the volunteer programme, the original intake of volunteers will receive its 10-year awards.

Volunteers who attended the National Volunteers Week luncheon

At the luncheon, the Museum’s managing director, Jeff Coope, revealed the BMM’s five-year plan. Some exciting plans for the future expansion of the Museum were announced, creating new opportunities for the volunteers in the years to come.

Back to the present, the majority of the volunteers are now returning to what they like doing best - guiding, assisting and informing the many visitors at the Museum. At the time of writing, the Museum is only open Friday to Monday, but full opening will commence during the school holiday and following the ending of lockdown restrictions.

The volunteer programme now covers many other activities, some of which have been covered in past blogs, like restoration, vehicle data collection and oral history recording. 

The Outreach and Presentation team are back in action, having recently hosted a visit by Towns Thorns Care Centre – pictured below. The team is available to either host visits at the Museum, or make visits to health & wellbeing, or community groups bringing museum objects and memorabilia. Further details can be found here.

Another initiative recently started by the Museum is its participation in the STEAM scheme, an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts & Maths. Five volunteers have agreed to help the Museum with their involvement by becoming STEAM ambassadors.

Back to the creation of a series of history talks. Now rehearsed, completed and signed off, we are able to deliver the following talks; The Mini - Wizardry on Wheels, The Most Beautiful Car in the World – the E-type Jaguar, The Evolution of the British Motor Industry and The Car’s the Star. In the planning stage we have; The History of the British Sports Car and Royal Cars.

Around 12 volunteers have been taking part in this rewarding project, which will also see them deliver the talks, either at the Museum, out in the community, or even in the current climate, via Zoom. More details can be found here on the Museum’s website.

All the talks last around 45 minutes and contain a large number of photos, drawings and illustrations from the Museum’s vast archive collection. A 15-minute taster video, given by one of the volunteers, can be viewed here.

Finally, at the end of July, the Museum will have a stand at the annual Silverstone Classic meeting, which as usual will be hosted on all three days by our volunteers. So, why not pop along and say hello?

Before you plan your Museum visit, always check our website for the latest information and any possible restrictions.

Monday, 6 July 2020

Still volunteering, but this time at home

Stay at Home is a slogan we’re all now very familiar with, but the opportunity has not been wasted on around a dozen or so of the Museum’s volunteers, who’ve been working on a programme of talks and presentations on motoring related subjects.

With one already completed - The Mini - Wizardry on Wheels, the others currently in progress are: - The History of British Sports Cars, The Evolution of the British Motor Industry and Royal Cars.

When things return to normal these talks will be presented by the volunteers, either out in the community, or at the Museum. It’s planned for talks to last around 45 to 50 minutes, accompanied by a wealth of interesting slides and the occasional video clip.

As can be imagined, with the Museum’s large collection of over 300 British - manufactured vehicles and its renowned and comprehensive Archive, we’re not short of information or resources. The task is of course to collate all the research, pick out the defining moments and present it in an interesting and entertaining manner.

Opening slide from the Mini talk
The talk on the Mini, which celebrated 60 years in 2019, was presented at the Museum just before lockdown to a group of 40 people from Caversham Heights Society. This talk was very well received, having been presented and largely put together by volunteer Roger King. Roger, a BMC apprentice from 1960 to 1966 and a former Director of Public Affairs at the SMMT, is a big admirer of the Mini.

The other talks in progress are very much the work of groups of between three and four volunteers, who have an interest in their particular subject. Whilst lockdown has slowed things down a bit, the wonder of Zoom has come to our rescue with regular discussion groups. In fact the history of the British sports car has recently had a complete initial Zoom run through, including the slide presentation.

From the Mini talk - One of several early Issigonis sketches
There have been some interesting debates amongst the various groups on their subjects, particularly on content and format. Whilst the Mini is a fairly straightforward and well documented story, the others are wide ranging and need more detailed research and structure. An example for instance was our original debate on sports cars. What is your definition of a sports car? Ask half a dozen car enthusiasts and you’ll probably get several different answers (we did), but we hope you’ll agree with our final definition.

We’re fortunate that the Museum contains many of the vehicles that played a key part in the evolution of the British motor industry – telling the story in a simple and entertaining way is now the challenge. Royal Cars is somewhat different, allowing us not only to talk about a wide range of vehicles, 16 of which we have in the Museum, but also stories related to their royal owners.  Unfortunately at the moment, planned research trips to the Royal Mews and Sandringham House have had to be postponed, so we can’t complete the talk for now.

The Museum, even with little or no promotion, has already received quite a lot of interest in these talks, so new ones are already in the pipeline.  As with the other talks, the Museum is well stocked with vehicles and information relating to the subject matter, particularly car sales brochures from yesteryear.

When things return to normal we’ll be able to give you more details about our talks programme.  The volunteers will then be able to deliver them at a venue of your choice or maybe at the Museum itself, where a tour of the collection can be part of your visit. Keep your eye on the Museum’s website and Facebook page for further announcements, or contact

Tuesday, 15 October 2019

The Outreach and Presentation Team

This blog has described many of the various activities and duties in which volunteers are involved at the British Motor Museum. One group that has so far avoided the spotlight is the Outreach and Presentation team, volunteers who are becoming more and more active in the local community.

Formed in 2015, the original function of the group was to visit local clubs, societies and institutions etc. where presentations focussed on the promotion of the refurbishment of the main Museum, plus the construction and subsequent opening of the new Collections Centre. Known then as just the Presentation team, it comprised of about eight volunteers.

Some of the team at a recent training meeting

As part of the Museum’s commitment to help and become involved in the local community, in 2017 the group evolved into the Outreach and Presentation team – currently comprising around 14 volunteers. The Outreach programme is where between three and four volunteers visit outside organisations where, in the majority of cases, their members need special care and attention. These will typically be; dementia caf├ęs, Alzheimer’s Society groups, and care homes, as well as isolation and wellbeing and mental health groups – people for whom a visit to the Museum itself may not be practical or desirable.

The Museum, as you would expect, has a huge collection of motoring memorabilia, so it’s a selection of some of the most interesting items that we take with us to show these groups. Their reaction has really proved the worth of these visits. Often, even the more mundane items, will bring back memories or stimulate conversation and interest. Also the chance to hold and look through items such as old driving licences and pre and post war car publicity photos, plus examples of old and modern car parts, nearly always manages to inspire a story from the audience.

A small selection of some of the items

As an alternative to us going out to visit groups, we can also arrange and accommodate special group visits to the Museum itself. All our usual memorabilia items will be available to view, as well as a guided tour of sections of the Museum. Refreshments can be provided if required and the Museum is well equipped and designed for wheelchair use.

The team in action at what is a relatively small group
We’ve attended around 75 visits since the programme started and are likely to end up visiting around 40 this year alone. The visits normally last about an hour and we can attend any suitable venue within about an hour’s drive from the Museum in Gaydon. Another attraction to a couple of our recent visits has been our restored 1960 Standard Ensign. When available, this provides a great chance to remind people what sixties motoring was like and how basic most cars of that age were. 

Our restored Standard Ensign brings back memories of sixties motoring

The group’s next project will be a re-launch of their original Museum presentation to local organisations etc., but with the added bonus of a short talk on one of three motor related subjects. These are likely to be about the Mini, British sports cars and the evolution of the British motor industry.

As a result of these new initiatives and the growth in the number of requests we’re now receiving we need more volunteers. So, if any existing volunteers want to join the team, or anyone else reading this is interested in becoming part of the team, then please get in touch with our volunteer coordinator Sonja Dosanjh on 01926 927820. Further details can be found at the bottom of this website page

Further information and booking details for visits can be obtained from Emma Rawlinson, Family and Lifelong Learning Officer on 01926 927823