When Jo Shorter heads off for a day of volunteering, she puts on her buckskin and sharpens her flint arrows.
The 46-year-old, from Southampton, is a historical interpreter at Butser Ancient Farm near Petersfield in Hampshire, which allows her to embrace her passion for the Stone Age period.
She wants to show that doing you truly love means you get just as much out of it as the organisation you are volunteering for.
‘It’s about finding where your passions are and where you can use them. When that crosses over in perfect harmony like it does for me, it’s magic,’ she says.
She got involved around three years ago after meeting a member of Butser staff at The Weald & Downland Living Museum, where she also does occasional freelance historical interpreting.
After hearing about the Butser Ancient Farm site, Jo was keen to get involved as much as possible.
She says: ‘I’ve had unusual skills since I was quite young – I’ve always been creative and have had this interest in the way primitive cultures do things. They start with nothing and can do these wonderful things.
‘I have picked up how to make all sorts of things – buckskin using deer hide, coiled baskets, primitive musical instruments, bows and arrows
‘Working at Butser gave me the opportunity to explore that more. The site and the skills that I’ve got seemed made for eachother.’
The site is an features archaeological reconstructions of ancient buildings from the Stone Age, Iron Age, Roman Britain and the Anglo-Saxon period to help people learn what life in those periods was really like.
The farm is run as a community interest company, which means it exists to benefit people rather than shareholders, and it relies on volunteers like Jo to further the mission of educating people about pre-history.
At the site, Jo literally ‘inhabits the Stone Age’ showing some of the skills people then would have used, trying to be as historically accurate as possible.
She says: ‘I put on my Stone Age gear and some things I have made and live in one of the buildings. When the public come in, I speak with them and share my enthusiasm about all aspects of the period.
‘It’s so fascinating and so different to how we live today. I have a limited knowledge but I am always reading and learning more.’
Although Jo tries to study as much as possible, the information from the period is limited but Butser is about experimental archeology, which allows for interpretation.
‘I try to be as authentic as possible but I’m not a professional and being a volunteer means I can use my imagination,’ she explains.
‘I think about what I can use as glue, or string or whatever I need by considering what may have been available to them at that time. I don’t know for certain that they used that thing but I think they may have.’
Through her work, Jo helps bring the stories of the period to life and educates others, but she says volunteering has also brought many benefits for her personally.
Although her volunteering was often paused throughout the pandemic, she tries to go to Butser at least once a week when it is open.
‘I can’t really put into words how much it has helped me,’ she says.
‘I have mental health issues, mainly depression and the site just gives me a release. It feels like they’ve untied my hands and given my wings.
‘There are so many benefits of being outside with the animals there as well.
‘It’s just given me such a lift and feels so nice to engage with people who appreciate my skills. The staff are very welcoming and friendly and they give me all the support I need.
‘They give me my space knowing that I need my time there for my own wellbeing too. They are always asking me before getting me involved just in case I am not in the right headspace. Butser is my happy place and being there has boosted my mental health greatly.’
Jo feels that being involved in this work allows her to relax and truly be herself.
‘Because of all this I can be freely enthusiastic and exuberant and this works well with visitors, passing on the excitement I have for the Mesolithic period.
‘It connects me to the unending lineage of humanity. It gives me a sense of purpose and a sense of my place in the universe.’
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