Volunteers Week: Myra McLanaghan

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For Volunteers Week, we asked our volunteers to write a blog post about their volunteering experience. Here’s Myra McLanaghan sharing some of her thoughts.

I didn’t really volunteer for the Trust – it sort of found me. I was a regular at the Wednesday Highlight talks at the RBBM and the Volunteer Co-ordinator approached me, thinking I would be interested. Of course, you always believe that you have nothing to offer and need qualifications etc.; but the thing is, you suddenly find that you have life experiences of qualifications and so I took the plunge of becoming a Volunteer.

I started off doing craft work, making rag rugs. So, with other volunteers, I commenced making a rag rug for Burns Cottage, where we would sit on a Monday afternoon cutting up fabric and creating our masterpiece. As people came through we found that nostalgia was a big part in discussion and visitors would discuss the rag rug, who made it in their family and what it was even called in different parts of the country. Overseas visitors were most intrigued, and children even tried their hand at putting a piece of material into the rug. The group are now on their third rug and we are now expanding into learning about weaving and dyeing of fabrics on the 18th century. From little acorns large oaks grow.

I have also become involved in a performance team who dress in 18th-century costume and perform the works of Burns. Our overseas visitors really appreciate us in costume and they feel part of what we are trying to tell them about life in Scotland during Burns’ time. Being a volunteer expands your experiences and confidence. I have a natural love for Scotland and volunteering has added a new dimension of meeting new people and making new friends and sharing a common love of Scotland and Robert Burns in the area where not only did I grow up, but he did too.


Myra (second from right) with some more rag ruggers, and their finished product, in Burns Cottage


Friends on Baith Sides: Willow Weaving

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Friends on Baith Sides is an intergenerational outreach project. We are seeking to teach people new skills and make new connections to the museum through a series of creative workshops. Saturday was our first week and we got off to a flying start by making some beautiful handmade willow baskets.


Our teacher, Geoff Forrest, chose a basket for the day’s project as it is an object that may have been familiar and useful in the 18th century when Burns was living in Alloway. We started with a circle of willow that Geoff had already constructed for us. The next step was to add in ‘spines’ using a thick section of willow and then tie it with strands of willow to the circle in a cross stitch. We then simply started weaving the reed between the spines and the circle.


The process sounds fairly simple but the material frays and snaps quite easily and can be tricky to manipulate the way you want it. One trick Geoff showed us was to wind the willow around a stick to start with so it had a curve already as one of our participants demonstrates below:


It was lovely to see everyone pitching in to help each other with the trickier bits and several people commented on how therapeutic it became once they got the hang of the technique.


Feedback on the workshop has been very positive. One person said, ‘Great class, great teacher, great fun. Thank you very much’ while another said ‘what a fabulous day’.

We are pleased to offer these workshops free of charge thanks to funding from Austin Hope Pilkington Trust and The Craigie Development Trust. Next Saturday, 10th September, we have a song writing workshop and there are still a few places left if you would like to take part. A photography workshop will take place on 17th September as well. Contact 01292 430 316 if you would like to book a place.

Rag Rug Making

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Volunteers Alison, Myra and Lynne

Recent visitors to Burns cottage may have noticed something new.  Our volunteers have been spending time demonstrating different 18th Century crafts inside the cottage. These crafts are all skills women in the 18th century would have been very familiar with and it is easy to imagine Agnes Burnes (Robert Burns’ mother) toiling away at these chores over the course of the day in the cottage.


One of the crafts underway is a project to make new rag rugs for the cottage. A group of volunteers have been busy starting this process over the winter and have just begun to demonstrate their new skills to visitors.

Rag rugs were popular because they were easy to make and materials were cheap. All you need to make your own is some hessian and lots of scrap material. Our volunteers started with a large hessian lining which would make up the back of the rug. Their first task was to draw a border which they wanted to fill with black material. Using old clothes kindly donated to us, our volunteers cut the material into strips to add to the rug.

Our Volunteers staring the project in December last year

The process is very simple: the material is simply pushed through the hessian using wooden pegs and because the material is tightly packed together it will stay in place.

The volunteers have now finished the black border and have been adding the colourful material to the centre of the rug. The material used for the rugs needs to be quite hard wearing and wool cloth is best; this makes the rugs heavy and warm.

Wooden pegs are used to push the material through the hessian

The rag rug team will be demonstrating their crafts on Monday afternoon and we recommend popping in to watch them in action!

Volunteers demonstrating the rag rug making in the Spence

Ayrshire Gifts an’ a’ That !

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For this blog I thought I would look at the Ayrshire Gifts an’ a’ That shop that is run by some of the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum’s volunteers.

Ayr has recently been named one of the healthiest high streets in Britain, through a piece of research conducted by the Royal Society for Public Health. This is based on the proportion of businesses found in their main retail area that support the public’s health. While Ayrshire Gifts an’ a’ That does’t on the face of it support public health, having spoken to volunteers and spent time in the shop it is clear that their are regulars who enjoy coming in to buy beautiful crafted items and have a wee chat with the volunteers in the shop. The shop has become popular with local residents of Ayr coming to browse and buy unique things.

Ayrshire Gifts started as a pop up shop in 2014, it proved very popular for Christmas gifts and has now continued on into 2015. The shop is located in Ayr town centre, opposite the Arran Mall.

The shop stocks items made by local crafters, these range from handmade wooden ornaments, a wide range a beautiful jewellery, cards, artwork … I could go on!

Ayrshire Gifts an' a' That
Ayrshire Gifts an’ a’ That

The volunteers have over 60 crafters on the books! Some of the crafters provide demo’s of how to make items of jewellery. (The next one in Wednesday 6th May 2-3pm! By Helen Beck who makes stunning necklaces, bracelets, earrings!)

For this blog I thought I would pick out some of my (and a few of our volunteers) shop highlights.

Currently the central display in the shop is the Teddy Bears Tea Party, the teddy bears are fully jointed handmade bears. These are made by a company called Logi Bear, with other fully jointed cuddly animals by KooKies. It is hard to resist cuddling them as you walk through the door!

Teddy Bears Tea Party Display - teddies are enjoying some Burns poetry, and some nice jams!
Teddy Bears Tea Party Display – Logi Bear teddies are enjoying some Burns poetry, and some nice jams!
Snuffles is by KooKies
Snuffles the Dog is by KooKies

Another favourite is Handmade Ayrshire, with regular customers coming in to buy their candles which prove popular. They are beautifully packaged and make great gifts… or just nice to buy for yourself.

Ayrshire Handmade candles and soaps
Ayrshire Handmade candles and soaps

The jewellery, scarfs and headbands in the shop are handmade and unique, it makes nice additions to wedding outfits for adults and children! There is jewellery to suit every taste and style.

Some of the amazing jewellery at Ayrshire Gifts an' a' That
Some of the amazing jewellery at Ayrshire Gifts an’ a’ That
Colourful Headbands !
Colourful Headbands !

If you are in Ayr swing by the shop for a good browse! The volunteers are knowledgeable about the stock and are wonderful at helping you pick out just the right gift, especially if you cant pick from the wide range!

By Catriona, Learning and Volunteer Intern, RBBM.

For more information on the report by the Royal Society of Public Health see:

Week of Luve!

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The week before last, we at Robert Burns Birthplace Museum got into the romantic spirit by hosting a ‘Week of Luve’ in honour of Valentine’s Day. Our Bard is known to have written the occasional love poem, including those little known works ‘My Luve is like a Red, Red, Rose’ and ‘Ae Fond Kiss’, and we thought it would only be fitting to tap into the Valentine’s mood ourselves!

After a diligent Friday of decorating the museum foyer with heart shaped balloons and cards, the week began on Saturday 8th, with children’s craft activities at the museum. The opportunity to make pop-up Valentine’s Day cards and ‘Luve bugs’ with heartfelt messages inside appealed to many and we were soon running out of felt and sticky letters. Alongside this, our luve jewellery market was in full swing, and we set up several stalls of very colourful items for our visitors to browse through. On Sunday, our jewellery market was replaced by a chocolate one, and many treats and goodies were available for sale. We were also selling roses and other plants all weekend to round off the romantic feel.

The Valentine's Craft fair at the museum

Throughout the week, we held several luve themed talks and concerts in the lead up to Valentine’s Day. On Monday, we welcomed Linda Somerville to the museum, performing a selection of classical and Scottish luve songs, and on Thursday local Ayrshire singer Roger Paterson treated us all to a session of ‘Live Luve Music’ in the museum cafe. Our curator Rebecca held an in depth talk at the museum on Tuesday exploring Burns’s manuscripts and luve letters, and at our weekly Highlight Talk on Wednesday afternoon, our volunteer co-ordinator Alison Wilson gave a detailed discussion of one of Burns’s most romantic poems ‘My Luve is like a Red, Red, Rose’. All in all, by the time the big day arrived we were already feeling very luved up!

One of the stalls at our jewellery market

On the 14th itself, our wonderful volunteers held a ‘Red Red Rose’ plant sale at the museum selling plants, along with scrolls of Burns’s famous poem, which went like hot cakes throughout the day. No doubt all those last minute Valentine’s shoppers were out in force!

And that rounded our Week of Luve off nicely. We would like to say a massive thank you to all of our staff and volunteers who worked hard to make each event a success, and to you for joining in! We hope you enjoyed Valentine’s Day as much as we did!

Some of the chocolates at our chocolate market