Francis and volunteer pose in stockroom

Francis Shriane’s Reflections on Three Years at Coffin Works

Francis cleaning an object in stock roomFor almost three years I have been volunteering at The Coffin Works in a Conservation/Care of Collection role. This involves cleaning and conserving the collection, taking environmental readings, pest control, training interns and everything in-between. Unfortunately due to my new job I have to take a, hopefully, short hiatus.

When seeing the courtyard for the first time you can’t help falling in love with the place. Imagining the noises, people, smells, smoke and general hustle and bustle of a busy industrial factory. I wanted to volunteer here. Even more when I found out I had a connection to the place.

Private Watkins worked for Newman Brothers before going to fight in the First World War and losing his life on September 1917. His connection to me is not only did he live on the same road as me, he actually lived in the house next door! Nothing much has changed in getting to town so it was a bit strange, but with pride, that a 100 years later I was taking the same route to Newman’s.

two volunteers clean courtyard doors

When doing “Conservation In Action” I get to hear the tour guides and what a talented bunch they are. Always interesting, entertaining and giving great value for money to the public. They are so brilliant I even heard one do her tour in German!


francis and volunteer crouch with vacuum on the stock room floor

In my role I get to meet and mentor some wonderful volunteers. They are always willing to learn, enthusiastic, hard working and getting into the spirit of the Coffin Works. Reflecting Birmingham, the diversity of The Coffin Works means all types of people come through the doors to be taught, and where we can, we learn from them.


three volunteers wearing purple gloves in the stamp roomAnd finally, the team. They are always supportive, giving up their time, caring and willing to help. On more than one occasion I have been on courses I would not have known about unless the information was passed on by the team. No doubt it helped me get to where I am now, for which I am very thankful. Joyce Green’s wish was to make Newman Brothers a museum and because of the dedication and work ethic of everyone involved she has had that wish, and more, fulfilled so an important part of Birmingham and England’s heritage is preserved.

After all the obstacles Joyce must have faced trying to be taken seriously as a business woman in the 1970’s, I’m sure she is looking down with a wry smile, knowing all the staff are female.

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