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Volunteers wanted for Camera Obscura 20 May 2011

The Isle of Man Victorian Society is appealing for new volunteers to help keep one of the Island’s oldest attractions open through the summer.

Minister Cretney (right) and Peter Kelly with a group from FThe Great Union Camera Obscura on Douglas Head was built in 1892. Only eight cameras obscura remain in the British Isles but the Island’s is unique in having more than one lens.

Restored by the Isle of Man Government and re-opened in 2005, it is operated by the Isle of Man Victorian Society at weekends and bank holidays on behalf of the Department of Community, Culture and Leisure.

Caseworker of the Victorian Society Peter Kelly said:

‘It would be nice to gain additional volunteers to ensure that this piece of our heritage continues to provide pleasure to locals and visitors alike for many years to come. The society has around 30 volunteers but a combination of reasons has resulted in fewer being available to help at the Camera Obscura this year. In particular we have a shortage of male volunteers this year. Our aim is to timetable helpers to one half day duty per month so it’s not too onerous.
'In fact, it's very rewarding to work at the Camera Obscura. People find it amazing. Children in particular are fascinated that it works with no computer and doesn't need switching on. It's just a mirror, a lens and sunshine. The brighter the weather, the better the experience.'

Volunteers do not have to join the Victorian Society and new helpers are always paired with a knowledgeable member to staff the attraction, which is open on Saturday Peter Kelly (left) and Minister Cretney lift the window coveafternoons 1pm to 4pm and on Sundays and bank holidays from 11am until 4pm during fine weather.

Andy O’Dell has been a volunteer attendant at the Camera Obscura for two years. He said:

‘I really enjoy it. You get to speak to families and it’s wonderful to see children fascinated by old technology that keeps them entertained for up to an hour. They get to see spectacular views of Douglas.’

The Camera Obscura attracts about 2,000 visitors during a season, a large proportion of whom are visitors to the Island. It is located on Douglas Head via steps from the main road. A Manx flag is hoisted to signal that it is open.

Admission is £2 for adults, £1 for students and pensioners. Accompanied children go free. All proceeds are retained by the IoM Victorian Society, which awards grants to renovate Victorian and Edwardian buildings and objects. Recent beneficiaries of grants of £1,000 include St Matthew's Church, North Quay, Douglas, towards the cost of restoring railings and Laxey and Lonan Heritage Trust towards the cost of restoring a Manx Electric Railway mail van. Previous recipients include the Baillie Scott Village Hall in Onchan towards the cost of removing 1960s panelling and manufacturing stained glass for interior doors. Also, the Laxey Workingmen’s Institute with money to renovate and adapt the entrance foyer.

Hon David Cretney MHK, Minister for Community, Culture and Leisure, said: ‘I was very pleased when, as Minister of Tourism and Leisure, I was able to work with the IoM Victorian Society and bring the Camera Obscura back to life, and I am very grateful to the Society for organising volunteers to enable the Camera Obscura to operate at weekends and bank holidays throughout the summer. It’s a way of stepping back in time and provides an experience that has been delighting visitors for over a century.'

Anyone interested in assisting at the Camera Obscura is asked to contact Peter Kelly on 621733 or via email.

Photos - above: Peter Kelly (left) and Hon David Cretney MHK lift the window cover board. Top: A group from Fairfield Junior School in Douglas visits the Camera Obscura.

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