Amgueddfa Blog

I took this picture in June 2011, underground at Aberpergwm Mine near Resolven. In the picture are three mineworkers who were showing me around the workings. The lady in the middle, Katherine Voyle, was the mine geologist. It was her job to study the coal seam and decide which direction to take the head of the mine to maximise the coal output.

I went to the mine to record a video interview with Katherine about her life and how she ended up in this job. Part of my work is to collect ‘real’ people’s history so that future generations can get the true picture of life now. I asked her if it was strange being the only female amongst 300 men. She told me that it was at first but she soon got used to it. The men also accepted her as ‘one of the boys’ now, especially when she was wearing overalls, but they had a real shock if they went into her office after she had changed back into ‘office wear’!

Aberpergwm is a drift mine, in other words it cuts into the side of a valley rather than a deep shaft. The mine actually dipped steeply as we walked over a mile to the face. There, a huge cutting machine was busy and the noise was deafening. After my tour and conducting an interview we walked back up to the daylight. Even though I hadn’t done any physical work my legs were aching just walking in and out!

Katherine, originally from Swansea, told me that before coming to Aberpergwm she had worked on oil rigs in the North Sea and also in Holland. Her real love was the environment and nature and she was busy setting up a nature trail on the land above the mine.

2020 marks the National Waterfront Museum’s 10 year anniversary of working with the pupils and staff at Ysgol Pen Y Bryn



The National Waterfront Museum prides itself on the work that it does with the local community and schools within Swansea. These collaborations come in many different forms, from our GRAFT community garden to our innovative ‘my primary school is at the Museum’ programme. Our collaboration with Ysgol Pen Y Bryn is our longest running and a source of continual pride for the Museum.


The Museum and the school first came together in 2010 for a project named ‘Behind the Grey Doors’ which aimed to give a ‘behind the scenes’ look at the work that goes on at the Museum. The project gave an insight into everything from how our exhibitions are created to the operation of our Museum shop. Pupils from Pen Y Bryn interviewed staff at the Museum to find out what exactly it takes to run a Museum. The project was hugely enjoyable and beneficial for both the school and the Museum not only for its end product, a wonderful exhibition, but the journey towards it. Teachers and staff both noted the effect that the project had on pupils. Those who may have been tentative in the Museum at first were transformed by the end to feel more comfortable at home amongst the public and the exhibitions. This sense of ownership is something the Museum strives for in all of our community programmes.


The pupils and staff at Pen Y Bryn are a continual source of inspiration for all of us at the Museum. ‘Behind the Grey door’ gave us an insight into their amazing creativity and passion. Everyone at the Museum was keen to continue the work and Ysgol Pen Y Bryn have continued  to amaze us with their creativity. Each project has been more inspiring that the last. Projects have included the creation of books on subjects ranging from Swansea Football club to superheroes. The collaboration with huge organisations such as comic book studios and football’s club illustrates how the enthusiasm of the staff and pupils is infectious. They have also created films that have been voiced by everybody from Joanna Lumley to Michael Sheen. The galas that launch these films hosted at the Odeon in Swansea are a true celebration of all the hard work that goes into these projects, and the big screen occasion a reflection of the amazing talents of all those at Pen Y Bryn. All of the proceeds gained from the sales of books and dvds relating to the projects have benefitted local charities such as Ty Hafan.


Working with the school has helped the Museum to improve the support it provides to individuals with special educational needs. A ‘chill out room’ was created in the  Museum, with staff at Pen-Y-Bryn advising on the project. The room, similar to facilities they have at the school, offers a safe space for anybody who needs to take a moment.



To celebrate staff at the Museum have created an exhibition that celebrates all of the projects of the past ten years and the amazing objects that have created as part of them. Dethlu Deg marks ten years of working with Ysgol Pen Y Bryn and everybody here looks forward to ten more!

My name is James and I just want to sketch out a typical day as a part of the Volunteer Book Project in St Fagans.

We’re a small group, one of many in the museum, that has been running for over a year. Our group was set up to raise funds for St Fagans’ grounds by selling second hand books.

Usually, we go into the museum once a week. Communication with one another is straightforward, using a Whatsapp group. Someone from the group will decide a day to go in, the rest of us will say yay or nay. It’s very flexible. More often or not, there are a bunch of us in at any time and over the past year have developed a good working bond and friendship with one another.

We have two locations where we sell our books in the museum, Y Gegin, the main cafe, and Gweithdy, the crafts’ cafe and we’re very excited, too, because we’ve just found out that a space in the Buttery Cafe, which will be opening soon, is going to be available to us to sell books. Also, every cafe has its own particular subject, so if you are in the museum, try and visit them all if you can.

Our job is to keep the supply of good quality books for sale on display. Our generous donations from visitors keep the volume of turn over very fast, which has brought in a high amount of collection money. So far we have raised £3,000 from the project and the money is set to be spent on arches with integral seating for the Rose Garden and also to plant some extra trees nearby.

After picking up the stacks of books from the reception area, and checking what gaps there are to fill in the cafe, we make our way over to our little store room (in Tŷ Gwyrdd), walking and chatting as we pass along the path under the trees. You’ll hear the rumbling of our crate a long way off.

Sorting through the books is always interesting because we receive quite a diverse range of subjects, from popular fiction to highly specialist topics. Whatever we pick up, we price them, discuss them, keeping a close eye on what is selling well and what isn’t. The whole process is quite stimulating. We’re pretty much in charge of the whole running of the books project. It’s nice that St Fagans shows that level of trust in its volunteers.

Once we have gathered enough books to fill the empty spaces in the shelves, we rumble on over to the cafes to get the books out on display. We like to keep a check on how well books sell. For instance, we will photograph the shelves before and after a shift and also make a little pencilled note of the month the book goes on display. This information helps us to tailor our selections as much as possible to the tastes of the many varied people who visit St Fagans. Also, a few of our members have started selling some of our rarer books on eBay, so that we can maximize the funds we collect to be spent on adding more beautiful features to the museum.

A typical day lasts around three hours. At the end we all sign out at the reception desk with a satisfying feeling that there are a fresh load of low-priced and good quality books out for sale. It’s a rewarding role and we always feel appreciated by the museum for our work. There is a sense of belonging here and it’s really opened my eyes to new things.

After the UK Government took the decision to place much more severe restrictions on our lives and work due to Covid-19 – a demonstration of care for our health - we had to close all of Wales’ national museums almost immediately.


In just four days, teams across the organisation implemented the shut-down with extraordinary speed and efficiency. I am so grateful for their united and dedicated response to the extreme challenge we have faced, in what is in effect a national emergency.


I know that for very many of us, including me, closing our museums, leaving our offices and losing our day by day contact with our colleagues and friends has been an emotional and upsetting experience. But we have done it to protect the safety of our staff, our volunteers and our visitors.


We now have protocols in place at each of our museums to meet all the eventualities we can think of, and swift channels of communication to manage operations through the Duty Manager and Duty Director.


Yesterday was the second day where I was Duty Director and Bethan Lewis, Head of St Fagans National Museum of History was Duty Manager.


We worked with a dedicated pool of staff who will be managing the security of our seven national museums, collections, buildings and other public property. Our particular thanks go to them, IT, Finance, HR, Heads of Sites and the staff of other departments who have worked so hard to ensure that the Museum can continue to operate in these very difficult circumstances.


We will also keep in regular contact with all of the Amgueddfa Cymru family as they carry on as best they can to work from home.


We know that communication is harder when we cannot meet each other in person, and only remotely through a computer or a phone. I urge Amgueddfa Cymru staff and others to keep in touch with the people you work with regularly, especially if you have not heard from them for a while.

We invited some Big Pit Miner guides - Barry Stevenson, Richard Phillips and Len Howells - to share their memories of working underground.

These films include photos from the Cornwell Collection, and were originally made for the 'Bernd and Hilla Becher: Industrial Visions' exhibition, along with this guide to the workings of the headgear: