Volunteering on this project has been a brilliant distraction for me over the last year. I have been interested in industrial history and fashion history for quite a while, so it was great to work on a project that involved both! I loved meeting the other volunteers, it’s rare to meet other people with my niche interests. I have developed skills in researching and conducting oral history interviews.
One of last things we got to do on the project was take part in a trip to London, to go to the Courtauld Gallery. For me, it kind of tied everything together. People seem to either know of Courtaulds, the fabric brand, or the Courtauld, the art gallery, not knowing that the two are connected. The gallery was founded by the industrialist Samuel Courtauld, who had made his fortune through the manufacture of manmade textiles.
The gallery is situated in the gorgeous Somerset House, and contains a huge variety of art, from Medieval religious works to post-impressionist art of the twentieth century. The gallery had recently reopened after a huge refurbishment. We spent most of the day with Katherine Dunleavy, who is the National Partnership Coordinator at the gallery. She gave us a tour of the gallery, showing us the highlights of the collection, which included works by Van Gogh, Cézanne and Renoir. I was blown away by the place, and loved having the opportunity to look around at my own pace.
We had to get up at the crack of dawn, and I fell asleep almost instantly when I got home, but it had been my first time outside of the island of Ireland in two years. It was such a lovely treat after all of our work on the project, and it made me feel so appreciated as a volunteer. It was a lovely time of year to go, just before Christmas, because we got to see London all decorated for Christmas, and there was an ice skating rink set up in the courtyard of Somerset House. I am so grateful to National Museums NI and the Courtauld for giving me this experience.