A pioneering scheme is encouraging staff from companies across the region to volunteer for museum-related projects. James Barton found out more.
Tyne & Wear Museums (TWM) operates 12 museums with its collection of art, history, archaeology and the natural world attracting two million visitors a year. Launched in 2004 TWM has forged links with 23 businesses and in an initiative called Connecting through Culture is aiming to complete a number of cultural developments of its own at the same time as helping businesses to achieve a range of their corporate objectives.
The scheme also provides an exciting opportunity for individuals and groups of employees to discover some of the region's leading visitor attractions.
Connecting through Culture has been made possible by funding from the Sponsors Club for Arts & Business through the Arts & Business New Partners programme. It provides tailored volunteering experiences for the employees of businesses. Opportunities are available in a range of fields - from helping to prepare school and family workshops to becoming involved in community-based projects, to assisting curatorial staff with the care of collections.
Lucy Cooke is a volunteer co-ordinator, she said: "This is a fantastic opportunity for members of the business community to offer their time within one of the region's largest cultural organisations. By focusing on the region's business community our aim is to entice individuals and groups to consider the museum sector as a fulfilling arena in which to lend their expertise and experience; a relationship that we hope will benefit all parties."
Speaking about TWM John Mowbray, the director of corporate affairs and communication for Northumbrian Water whose employees helped archive documents at the Laing Art Gallery, said: "TWM are key partners for Northumbrian Water as they share the same links to community that we value and enjoy.
"The positive benefits of our relationship run both ways, and we value the way TWM engages our employees in their work through employee volunteering opportunities."
Northumbrian Water gave its employees the opportunity to volunteer as part of its Just an Hour scheme which gives each employee 12 hours a year to carry out a task.
Art gallery curator Julie Milne, looked on as employees cleared bookshelves, dusted and boxed materials, and labelled the contents as they cleared the store room, a task that would have taken months without volunteer involvement.
She said: "We are delighted with the work that has been carried out by the volunteers and that they've had the chance to work as a team in a new environment."
Another business partner, retailer John Lewis in Newcastle, has helped create a sensory trail at Preston Park in North Shields, inspired by the museums' collections for the Tynemouth Blind Welfare Society.
The garden is divided into themed areas using sensory elements to engage people through hearing, sound and touch and made accessible through the use of raised flower beds, tactile flooring, braille and artwork.
Volunteers were involved in digging the grounds for the trail. This sort of project allows companies such as John Lewis to get involved in a practical way as well as providing financial support.
Denis Nunn, community liaison co-ordinator for John Lewis, said: "Part of our corporate social responsibility policy states that we will build relationships with our customers, suppliers and the local communities we serve.
"This project at Pearey House has been a great example of working together as a team and taking time out as a business to serve our community."
It is hoped that people who enjoy the garden will visit the museums including Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens, Segedunum and Arbeia Roman Forts at Wallsend and South Shields, that inspired it.
For more information about the Connecting through Culture programme visit: www.twmuseums.org.uk/businesspartners/
Lucy Cooke (right) and a family enjoying an exclusive visit to the Hancock Museum.