News Article


Accessibility, Diversity, Safety

RUSU Disabled Students’ Officer advises on Volunteering Policies across Reading

RUSU Disabled Students’ Officer, Blythe Varney, has been working closely with the Museum of English Rural Life (The MERL) since the Summer Holidays 2018. She has been a prominent figure in the MERL as she has taken her Museum Studies modules at the museum and is currently in her final year. She has “close contacts” with the Front of House team as she has volunteered across multiple areas in the museum, including the Art Collections team.

Blythe donned her Disabled Students’ Officer’s hat for the 2019 revamp of the MERL’s café. For this, the MERL asked for Blythe’s advice on a few crucial points. Blythe assisted with the planning of additional shelving, ensuring their height was suitable for all visitors.

We spoke to David Neilson, Operations Manager, and Sheila Fisher, Volunteer Coordinator, to find out what Blythe has been up to…

She let us know that she was happy with the heights that we eventually used, easy to access, also with the fact that there would always be a permanent staff member in the café to aid anyone that needed it.” – David Neilson

The second item for Blythe to tackle was the MERL’s use of plastic straws in their café. The MERL were examining every option to cut the amount of waste produced by the café and were considering paper straws as an alternative.

She advised us that some visitors may have difficulty over using paper straws, if they get soggy, etc, and advised us that while it is great that we are trying to cut down on the amount of non-recyclable plastic in the café, we should also have the option of plastic just in case.” – David Neilson

Following Blythe’s advice, the MERL’s café now features paper straws which can be recycled or composted and a small stock of plastic straws for visitors who need them.

Behind the scenes, Blythe has provided much appreciated support on improving the MERL’s Volunteering Policy. Blythe’s suggestions for this guarantees volunteers come from “diverse range of backgrounds, representative to the local community” and their safety is ensured as each new volunteering role is assessed for any “significant hazards”.

Fisher has confirmed that Blythe’s advice “was very timely, as we are in the process of creating a Joint Volunteering Policy as part of the Arts Council-funded NPO project ‘Museums Partnership Reading’– a strategic partnership between the MERL and Reading Museum".


Congratulations Blythe on having such a positive impact on the Reading community, extending way beyond the grounds of the University.