We continue with our volunteer team profiles today with Jon:
Having worked in Leicester for the whole of my career, I had been retired for a couple of years when the 2012 dig took place. I had, by then, indulged in interesting walks around the city that I seemed never to have had time for, previously. Thus, I was fascinated to follow the fortunes of the Greyfriars dig and amazed at the successful outcome.
I am also fortunate that I am a member of the St. Nicholas Singers, having sung with the choir at this city centre church for many years. On the day of the ceremonial return of Richard to Leicester, 22nd March, 2015, his coffin was brought into St. Nicholas Church, one of the oldest places of worship in Leicester, and I had the privilege of being in the choir there to sing two anthems in the presence of a king of England. We sang, ‘Thou Knowest, Lord, The Secrets Of Our Hearts’ by Henry Purcell and ‘Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silent’, by Edward Bairstow – a unique occasion and an honour that I could never have foreseen. Life is full of surprises.
On 26th March 2015, the day of the re-internment of King Richard III in Leicester Cathedral, I played my part quite humbly as a street warden in Peacock Lane whilst the parade and service took place. For me, this was better than any London ceremonial; another unique occasion that I could feel part of. There was only one thing left for me to do to continue the process and this was to become a volunteer at the King Richard III Visitor Centre.
Thus, in August 2015, I began my first shifts at the Centre. Something of a learning curve! I found experienced volunteers very helpful and began compiling notes, often with their knowledgeable assistance.
Even after four years, visitor questions can still stimulate further research, but that is one of the attractions of the role; part of what makes being a volunteer both compulsive and rewarding.
Meeting people, listening to them and assessing the most appropriate response in every case is what makes it so endlessly fascinating.
Although I enjoy being in ‘the box’ and attempting a word picture explanation of the friary as it was, I find the gravesite the most inspiring place to be. Every visitor brings their own agenda, and thus their own interpretations, to that place.
At times, the gravesite is a place for quiet contemplation or the opportunity for an intimate conversation with one or two folk; at other times, one can find a crowd has assembled and there is an audience to be addressed. I have encountered there people who do not wish for any discussion or further information; I have also met folk who want to monopolise my time or impress me with the results of their own studies or devotion to the Plantagenet cause. I have had people sit in silence for minutes on end and yet there are always visitors who will walk in, give the grave a cursory glance and leave as quickly.
Although I do not make so many notes these days, I am glad that I did in my early days at the Centre. Even without those, however, I think I would have remembered the garrulous American who, with a gesture, said to me, “That’s my wife there. Check her butt.” I confess a double-take on that, not sure what I was being invited to do. But he insisted, “Go on …”. He let me sweat for a few seconds as I glanced in her direction, then said, “… she has scoliosis.”
On reflection, this serves to remind me: everyone brings their own personality, physicality and experience to their visit. Never presume…
I listen and attempt to engage. I hope that whatever I have to offer visitors, it complements the fascinating amount of thought-provoking information that they encounter in the Centre. They are unfailingly impressed with that.
Thank you to Jon and all of our volunteers!