I’M HOLDING a brooch that could be older than the Christian Church.

My palms are sweating. It could be because the 2,000-year-old piece of gold jewellery I’m holding is so valuable, or it could be the thin plastic of the gloves I’m wearing.

It’s my day off. Instead of spending it in the sunshine, I’m flanked by modern art at the Swindon Museum and Art Gallery.

Sitting on tables around me are four museum volunteers. All of them are wearing thin purple gloves. And all are busy with their respective tasks.

We’re working our way through a hoard of Roman brooches found during excavations at Wanborough in the 1970s.

The stash of around two hundred brooches is among an estimated 100,000 items in the Bath Road museum’s stores.

Over the years, the brooches have been re-labelled and repackaged using foam that was once industry standard – but which it is now believed could damage the historic artefacts over the long-term.

“We’ve got a selection of the brooches on display at the moment,” says collections project manager Stef Vincent. “The rest are in our store. In some places the labelling has gone awry.”

The museum has 25 regular collections volunteers – generous history lovers who give their time week in week out to sort, clean and conserve Swindon Museum’s bulging collection of historical objects.

Today, we’ll be looking through the brooches in the store. All of them will be taken out of their old packaging and photographed.

Like history detectives, the volunteers will match the brooches with pictures and descriptions from the report of the 1970s excavations where they were found.

With an identification complete, the details of the items are then entered into a special computerised database – meaning that museum staff know what they’ve got and where it’s all stored.

The artefacts will all be repackaged in specially-designed foam that protect the delicate gold, silver and iron brooches from harm.

Swindon Museum’s Stef, 35, says: “We’re repackaging them so that in the store they’re nice and safe.

“A lot of the things they used in the sixties and seventies to protect artefacts weren’t as stable as the materials we’ve got today. The older stuff is quite grim – like a yellow foam.”

She picks up one of the older brooch boxes: “If this gets separated from the rest of the boxes, all it will tell you is that Romans had brooches — which we know already.”

The brooches in the museum’s collection range widely in design and value, but all were found around Wanborough.

“They show that the town was in use and lived in for a reasonable period of time,” says Stef.

“In the past brooches weren’t used just for show – they were practical instruments for holding up your cloak.”

The four volunteers I’m with today have been working on the brooches since April.

For some of the quartet it’s a hobby – but for others volunteering could be a way into working in museums.

Pauline Bennett, 52, has been volunteering since June this year. “I like knowing what goes on behind the scenes. I’m interested in history.”

Pauline has long visited the Bath Road museum. “But I have learned a lot more about the museum than before. You get to meet some interesting people.”

Photographing the delicate brooches is 30-year-old Helen Brett – fresh from finishing a masters degree in medieval history at the University of Reading.

At university, Helen volunteered at a faculty museum. She started at Swindon Museum at the same time as Pauline — and is considering a career in museums.

“History has always been an interest of mine,” she said. “But it depends what jobs are available.”

Interest in the past is what brings the group together.

Tapping away at their computers are Nadia Zajancauskaite, 30, and Beth Farnham, 27. Both started volunteering with Swindon Museum three years ago.

The pair are cross-checking the Roman brooches with entries in the original archaeological excavation report, making sure that the repackaged brooches are properly labelled.

Former art student Beth, from Lydiard Millicient, originally started volunteering at the Bath Road museum because of its stunning modern art collection.

But her training as a volunteer came in useful. She also volunteers as curator of the Purton Museum.

Beth tells me: “It’s been really helpful. I’ve had training with the computer software that we use at Purton.”

Nadia, who grew up in Russia but fell in love with England when she visited nine years ago, says: “I love the whole fact you’re holding something in your hand that’s the same age as Jesus.

“It’s like you’re connecting to people who were living centuries ago.”

Today we’re working in a public gallery. As we work on the centuries-old artefacts there are visitors milling around.

But a hoped-for £22m new art gallery could make it easier to organise this volunteering work in future.

Stef says: “We’re still thinking about what there would be in terms of building space. But there would be extra behind the scenes space.

“At the moment, we’re working on small objects. But we have some really big objects in the collection which we can’t work on when there are members of the public around.”

To find out more about volunteering at Swindon Museum and Art Gallery, visit: www.swindonmuseumandartgallery.org.uk.