How does someone end up volunteering to be in the Garden of Eden?
I'd already heard of the Panacea Society of course. There was an account in that name at the Building Society where I used to be the manager. And there were occasional bits and pieces about it in the local papers, and I DID vaguely remember strange messages in national papers about something to do with a secret box but I didn't understand how all this was connected. So after I retired and saw publicity for the museum, I thought I'd find out.
A lovely sunny day, a professional welcome from Jane, an introductory film that made you wonder about all sorts of things that you hadn't expected, and we were away. That's how it started. Damn - only an hour on the parking meter. As we all now know you need longer...or must visit again. Anyway, my wife picked up a card that asked for volunteers, and said that as I had too much time on my hands I might as well do something that interested me and would get me out from under her feet.
I didn't have anything much going for me apart from a forty year old History degree and genuine interest. Perhaps Gemma decided to just give me a chance - the other volunteers were female so perhaps it would be a change to include an old bloke, and I passed the interview/informal chat. It was a comfortable and peaceful place to be for a few hours, chatting with first-time visitors who were as fascinated as I had been not so long before. The other volunteers were patient, especially with my tea-making abilities, and I was impressed at how well Jill could do anything that was needed, and do it well.
I read Jane Shaw's book, saw “Maidens of the Lost Ark,” read Rachel Fox's histories and was hooked by it all. After that, it was a case of finding out more about the people who had lived here, and wondering what they were really like. Impossible to know for sure I know, but still a fascinating way to keep the brain working. I found out where Mabel and Dilys and a hundred others are buried, and I carry out guided tours of Bedford Cemetery so our visitors can take their own interest further if they want. What to do in the winter when the museum is closed?- write a book about it all, that's what I did.
I'd never been particularly interested in Art before, but in the last few years I've genuinely appreciated the various exhibitions showcased here, been impressed by the people (mainly female) who have been responsible for them, and through this perhaps understood more about the vibrancy of the mainly female community of a century ago. And of course Jimmy Cauty's ADP exhibition here was something else.
Different volunteers get different kinds of personal satisfaction from being here. I love it when visitors say Thank You, and they'll be back, and will bring a friend as well. That's time well spent, I reckon.
Volunteers are a nice bunch of people, who look forward to going to “work.” There's few better places to be than in the Garden of Eden. We like being here.