Looking through just a handful of photographs in our archive shows how much Middleton Hall has changed over the years. It was a lived-in home up until 1966 when it was sold to Amey Roadstone Corporation. The company used the once thousands of acres site for gravel extraction and neglected the house. In 1977, a group of ramblers came across the Hall in its derelict state and although North Warwickshire Borough Council refused them financial support, they managed to secure short-term financial backing from Amey Roadstone Corporation; thus founded Middleton Hall Trust in 1980. Our volunteers and staff, past and present, are incredible. Without them, Middleton Hall would not still be standing today.
Jean, Debbie & Tabitha
In support of International Women’s Day, we would like to share the contributions and achievements of our female volunteers and staff. We are a small organisation that is proud to have a female Heritage Site Manager and a female Chairperson; six out of the seven remaining members of staff are women. Christine, the Trust’s Chairperson, celebrates how “having a strong female team sets us on a par with our male colleagues in an environment where we have a common passion and goal – to see the Hall succeed and to be an integral part of that success.” Heritage Site Manager, Joanna, has been working for the Trust for four years and has significantly taken the organisation forward during her time here: “Women often have to prove themselves capable in a world that considers men more proficient. Working for a small organisation with a limited budget is often challenging, but we are proving that we are capable and committed to achieving our goals regardless of gender.”
I asked our volunteers how being a part of Middleton Hall empowers them as women. Volunteer and trustee, Pat, challenged sexism in the workplace throughout her career and faced opposition to being both a working mother and to being a woman in a leadership role. Pat says that: “Volunteering has given me the opportunity to use the skills that were so hard won during my working career and I feel valued and appreciated as a contributor to enhancing the enjoyment of others.” Furthermore, Linda, our admin volunteer, has dedicated over twenty years to raising her sons and has recently started volunteering with us to regain confidence in a working environment. “I decided to volunteer to regain confidence, learn computer skills and to feel I have a purpose. I can be Linda and not just be a mum.” Feeling valued and having a purpose is one of the main reasons many people choose to volunteer and we are proud to encourage our volunteers to learn something new and follow their passions, regardless of gender.
Women played a huge role in the early days of the restoration. They welcomed visitors, worked in the tea room, and even got involved in the construction works. Betty, one of our volunteers and trustees who has been volunteering here in since 1985, recalls how two of her fellow volunteers, Betty and Mary, mixed cement by hand. When they stopped doing it, the Trust decided it was time to invest in a cement mixer! Betty is our longest running female volunteer. She has witnessed the Hall grow from dereliction to how it is today; she has been an integral part of its success; and she now leads the organisation forward as a trustee. Betty began by supporting the running of the tea rooms and later took an interest in researching the Hall’s history and presenting it to our visitors: “I feel one of my biggest achievements was completing my exhibition on the Middleton Estate which was displayed from Spring 2017. I was given the freedom to work on this project independently and I am very proud of it.”
Betty – Trustee
Volunteer blacksmith, Di, has turned her hobby into career and works in a trade typically associated with men. She has made a huge success of her business and even has time to volunteer and give demonstrations to our visitors. Di says: “Volunteering at Middleton Hall has given me a renewed sense of confidence and achievement. I do feel empowered. I feel supported as a woman blacksmith and am very grateful.”
Our female volunteers have achieved so much whilst volunteering at the Hall and in their personal lives, that it is impossible to fit it all into this short article. From single handily writing three guidebooks, to bringing horticultural knowledge to the gardens; from working as a Senior Lecturer in a top university, to supervising the book room for twenty-nine years; from playing a leading role in a breast cancer charity, to keeping the Hall clean and tidy, it is safe to say our female volunteers and staff, past and present, are quite amazing. We are lucky to have the privilege of knowing and working with each and every one of these wonderful ladies.
Happy International Women’s Day!