Athelstan museum member numbers soar as its volunteers celebrate much success.

The Athelstan Museum in Malmesbury is once again thriving. Its membership now exceeds pre-Covid figures with 430 members contributing to its success, including seventy-five regular volunteers. The museum, well known as the home of renowned artist JMW Turner’s watercolour of Malmesbury Abbey, had to close its doors during the pandemic. It then lost around ten of its volunteers.

Along with the closure itself, this created a challenge for the museum. It treats its community engagement responsibilities with seriousness and prides itself on being open six days a week, forty-nine weeks of the year. Post pandemic the team had to work hard to not only get the Turner on display, but to get the museum back on track.

Athelstan Museum Member Numbers Soar - Susan Mockler, vice chair of the Athelstan Museum management team
Athelstan Museum Member Numbers Soar – Susan Mockler, vice chair of the Athelstan Museum management team

Athelstan museum management

Susan Mockler, vice-chair of the Athelstan Museum management team explains why the museum is now thriving again.

‘Our member numbers are well up on pre-Covid figures. With 430 people, that’s 100 more than we had before the pandemic,’ she says.

‘What’s particularly interesting is that many those new members are international and found us during lockdown. It’s lovely to have membership from home and abroad and to know that the history and heritage of Malmesbury is reaching all corners of the globe!’

This is also reflected in the numbers visiting the museum’s website. It’s seen 7,220 users from various countries including America, New Zealand, South Africa and Sweden. And with a total number of website visitors of 18,396 in the last twelve months. 

The museum also says its following on social media, including Facebook and Twitter has seen significant increases. And the number of people who have signed up to their mailing list is at an all-time high.

A vital volunteer team

Sharon Nolan is chair of the museum’s trustees. She said:

Athelstan Museum is very fortunate to have a steady team of valued volunteers.  A good number of them have been loyal to us for many years. Over the last year we have recruited new volunteers. Often they’re recommended by word of mouth. Or may be new residents in the town.  

Volunteering in the museum is a great way to meet new people, learn about the history of Malmesbury and contribute in a positive way to the community. There are many different roles. They range from the front desk, to helping with our amazing collection, education and outreach, exhibitions, events or the museum shop. There is something for everyone.’

With volunteer numbers being back up to pre-pandemic levels, seventy-five local people now donate their time on a day-to-day basis to help the Athelstan go from strength to strength.

Volunteers are vital to the museum’s ability to thrive as a community hub. Further they’re an important touch point for visitors, especially school groups. The management team believe that the hard work of the volunteers have made a significant contribution to the growing success of the Athelstan. For sure they were instrumental in the acquisition of the Turner watercolour.

The added high profile provided by the Turner painting and collections such as the Malmesbury Coin Hoard — a collection of more than 1,200 Roman coins discovered by a metal-detecting enthusiast in a Wiltshire field ten years ago — has helped drive the museum’s success.

Public engagement

The museum has also been taking history outside of its walls to local schools and out into the community. An example of this included Sue Poolman delivering an engaging talk about the acquisition and history of the Turner painting to local residential homes. And they all received a framed print of the watercolour.

Our accessibility to the people of Malmesbury is so important to us,’ says Susan Mockler. ‘And we consider ourselves to be a crucial point of access for anyone interested in the heritage of the area and the collections we hold. We look after objects that provide us with so much information about our past. They tell the story of the local area, but those objects wouldn’t have any tales to tell us without the people who made them part of their lives. We want to engage with the community more and more. That’s because, when it comes down to it, it’s people who have helped make our history and continue to help us keep those stories alive for future generations.’

To become a member involves a commitment to donate at least £12 a year or £200 to secure a life-time membership.

For more information about the museum and how to become a member or volunteer, visit:

I’ll take a moment here to mention Swindon museum and art gallery – as was and as is becoming. Housed in Apsley House in Swindon’s Old Town, Swindon Borough Council elected not to reopen it when the Covid collar finally was lifted. Thus followed a long and somewhat sorry saga of campaigning by some of the museum Friends. They too, as with the Athelstan museum, undertook varying roles to support the museum.

But there’s now a light on the horizon. Work is at last underway to convert the first floor of the civic offices into a new museum and gallery.

Visit their website here:

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