#VolunteersWeek: Accreditation and Volunteer-Run Museums

Volunteers at Mersea Museum installing their summer exhibition

Volunteers at Mersea Museum installing their summer exhibition

Mersea Museum is an independent local history museum, established in 1976. They have recently submitted their successful Accredited return and Joanne Godfrey talks about their experiences of the process as a volunteer-run organisation.

Mersea Museum became a registered museum in the 1980s, a fact which my predecessors were very proud of, and it has been very important to us not to let them down and to continue to make progress. Our last accreditation return under the MLA in 2010 was a bit more demanding than the previous one but we got through it successfully.

In 2013 we had to make our next return under the new ACE standard and I must admit that we were rather surprised and daunted by the amount of work that would be required, even allowing for the element of scaleability for small museums. However, after going through the different sections carefully and taking copious notes, we realised that this would be do-able. There are templates available to help with writing policies and you can find examples online of what other museums have done which can be helpful. We also made plenty of use of our Museum Mentor and MDO who have the experience to help you when you get stuck or just need a bit of support and encouragement.

Getting people involved in areas such as the Forward Plan and Collections Development Policy is useful as it makes you think about what your museum and its collections are really about and how to reach out to all potential audiences. There were many areas where we had to put into words things that we tended to take for granted such strengths and weaknesses, which was a very useful exercise.

It did take several months before we were ready to submit our return in May 2014 and we were delighted to hear that we had been awarded full accreditation. Our museum was specially commended for its “user focused experiences” which was very satisfying.

I won’t pretend that it was an easy process but if you don’t panic and take all the help available you will have a real sense of achievement when you succeed. The benefits of accreditation, particularly for volunteer-run museums, include being eligible for small grants, access to SHARE training courses and the support of a Museum Mentor. Over the past few years our museum has received grants for various conservation materials, shop fittings, display cabinets, audio guides and electrical equipment which have all helped to improve standards and the experience we offer to visitors. Most importantly we received a Heritage Lottery Fund grant in 2010 towards building our resource centre which has been a great asset to the museum.

We continue to look to the future with plans for some new audio interpretations in displays and a possible longer term plan for another extension. When accreditation comes around again in 2018 we hope to be well prepared.

For more information about Accreditation, contact your local Museum Development Officer and visit the Arts Council’s website. There are also useful resources available from SHARE Museums East, the South West Museums Federation and Collections Trust.

#VolunteersWeek: Volunteering and the HLF

To mark the start of Volunteers Week 2015, Miranda Stearn, Policy Adviser, Learning and Volunteering at the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), explains how and why HLF supports volunteering activity within the projects it funds.

Making a lasting difference for heritage and people

We use money raised by National Lottery players to help people across the UK explore, enjoy and protect the heritage they care about. We support all kinds of projects, as long as they make a lasting difference for heritage, people and communities. It’s not difficult to see how volunteering can play a major part in creating a lasting difference, particularly when you meet the amazing volunteers who contribute their time to heritage projects around the UK (you can read about the experiences of some of these volunteers in my Volunteers’ Week blog on the HLF website).

We describe the difference we want Lottery players’ money to make through a range of 14 outcomes. One of these is that ‘people will have volunteered time’. But volunteering clearly contributes towards many of our other outcomes too. This might be through providing expertise so that heritage sites can be better managed, by creating opportunities for people to develop skills and have an enjoyable experience, or by helping make heritage organisations more resilient.

How HLF supports volunteering

Volunteers provide excellent value for money, but we recognise that high quality, inclusive volunteering experiences come with costs. We’re happy to support some of these costs, for example:

  • volunteer training, travel and expenses
  • recruitment costs;
  • staff posts to co-ordinate and manage large numbers of volunteers
  • costs associated with making your project accessible to volunteers with additional needs

We also recognise the value of volunteers’ time to a project and we ask applicants to calculate the financial value that their volunteers bring, based on the number of days and type of activity they will contribute. The values are set out in our application guidance:

  • professional labour (e.g. accountancy or teaching) – £350 a day
  • skilled labour (e.g. leading a guided walk) – £150 a day
  • unskilled labour (e.g. being a steward at an event) – £50 a day

These values can contribute towards match funding, and can be particularly helpful for smaller organisations by helping to demonstrate value for money within their project budgets.

What to read next

You can find our top tips to ensure volunteers have the best possible experience in our good practice guidance. You can also learn from others’ experience of running an HLF project through our online case studies. One case study describes how volunteers at Bishop’s Stortford Museum researched crime on the home front during the First World War to create an exhibition and an app.

To get a fuller picture of the benefits of heritage volunteering, we commission research studies that look at the experience of volunteers involved in HLF projects. These have helped us understand who volunteers, what motivates them, and the difference volunteering makes to their lives – including the significant difference it can make to their health and wellbeing. You can read more about the research on our website.

If any of this inspires you to develop a heritage project run by volunteers or with a strong volunteering element, take a look at our website, read our application guidance, and get in touch with our East of England team.

Follow on Twitter: @HLFEoE @heritagelottery @MirandaStearn

Celebrating Volunteers!

Volunteers at Rayleigh Mill

Volunteers at Rayleigh Mill

Monday 1st June is the start of the thirty-first National Volunteers’ Week. This annual celebration of the work volunteers do is very relevant for museums. Most of the museums in Essex are entirely volunteer run, and those that aren’t still rely heavily on the hard work and creativity of volunteers.

Ahead of Volunteers’ Week, I am launching a new Volunteer Management Toolkit, with useful information for anyone managing volunteers and templates for documents including a volunteering policy, volunteer agreements, skills audits etc. There’s also a new Evaluation Toolkit, including a “how to” guide, templates, a glossary and a list of useful websites. These have been created for Essex museums by Pippa Smith from Handling the Past.

During Volunteers’ Week, I am hosting a series of guest posts:

  • Monday – Volunteering and the HLF by Miranda Stearn, Heritage Lottery Fund
  • Tuesday – Young Curators by Francesca Pellegrino, Epping Forest District Museum
  • Wednesday – Accreditation and Volunteer-Run Museums by Joanne Godfrey, Mersea Museum
  • Thursday – Life as a Museum Volunteer by Deke Dudley, Braintree Museum
  • Friday – Volunteering with Kids in Museums by Jane Allnutt
  • Saturday – The vTeam: Partnership Opportunities With the Student Volunteering Team by Anya Visegorodceva, University of Essex Students’ Union
  • Sunday – Students, Graduates and Volunteer-Run Museums by Christine Brewster and Katie Wilkie, The Cater Museum

Thursday 4th June is also the first SHARE Museums East Volunteer Awards, and several Essex-based volunteers have been nominated, so please keep your fingers crossed for them!

~Amy Cotterill

Case Study: New Donation Box at Essex Police Museum

Donation box BEFORE the SHARED Enterprise Grant...

Donation box BEFORE the SHARED Enterprise Grant…

SHARED Enterprise is a HLF Catalyst-Funded project supporting museums throughout the East of England to explore new ways of generating income and to make better use of existing financial opportunities. Becky Wash, Curator of Essex Police Museum, talks about her recent experience of working with SHARED Enterprise and a step they’ve taken to increase their income.

The Increasing Individual Giving training session run by SHARED Enterprise allowed those on the course to apply for a grant of up to £500 to improve access to individual giving.

The Essex Police Museum costs £40,000 a year to run and has been self-funded for the last three years. The museum is a registered charity and has successfully found funding from online giving, gift aid and setting up a Payroll Giving Scheme.

The museum’s donations box – a small clear box that sat on a small table near the main entrance is the only donations box in the museum.

Although it did bring in some money we felt it was low down and easily missed by visitors.

The grant allowed us to apply for funding so we could purchase a new and improved box.

We looked at the variety of donations boxes available:

  • Donation Buckets
  • Charity Pots
  • Box with a hole for a coin or folded notes
  • Interactive donations box

Then we looked at the prices – and picked ourselves up from the floor!

We wanted something that looked professional but was affordable and meant something to our museum.

Interactive boxes are fun but they are normally filled with coppers rather than notes.

Someone suggested that we make a box from an old police helmet – but I wanted to make sure that we continued to use a transparent box.  It allows the visitor to see exactly how much is in it before they make their donation. There has been some research into the use of transparent donations boxes and this YouTube video explains a case study in more detail.

We have always and continue to leave a float of £10 in our donations box made up of a £5 note, £2 coin, 2 x £1 coins and 2 x 50p coins. It most certainly discourages any coppers (unlike our non-see through boxes which we leave at Essex Police Reception and the local corner shop). We often see a note or two in our box but the majority of coins that enter the box are gold.

So we went back to our original clear box – how could we improve it?

Essex Police Museum Donation Box

…and the donation box AFTER the grant

Our answer was to improve the box signage and to make the clear box prominent.

I contacted a carpenter friend of mine and explained what I wanted. The finished piece was a traditional looking Police Box measuring 85cm high, almost double the height of the original table.

The box most definitely stands out and we have had many positive comments, but it is early days yet to say whether the box has helped to increased donations to the museum.

The project cost £150 in total which also included the price of a new plastic box (with lock) and new signage (not seen in the photos).

Dinosaur vs Whale: What Can We Learn from the Natural History Museum?

"Dippy" the Diplodocus

“Dippy” on display at the Natural History Museum (Image by CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

The Natural History Museum caused a media storm last week when they announced that “Dippy” the diplodocus would be leaving his current spot in the entrance gallery and be replaced by the skeleton of a blue whale.

While some people are upset that Dippy is leaving, the truth is that the diplodocus had only been in that spot for 35 years, not all that long in the museum’s 134 year history. George the Elephant stood there from 1907 to 1979 – a far more impressive run! It should also be noted that Dippy’s not a “real fossil”, but a plaster cast. Changing the display is part of NHM drive to highlight issues of environmental conservation, which is a significant part of their vision, and the museum will continue to have dinosaurs on display.

The story has given the museum a lot of publicity. It’s been featured by all of the major news outlets and the public have taken to the internet, the radio and television debates to express their allegiance to either #TeamDippy or #TeamWhale. I confidently predict that their visitor figures will go up over the next few months, not just because people want to “say goodbye” to Dippy but because all of this media coverage has reminded them that the museum is there and it’s free. Then, when the whale takes up residence in 2017, the new display and second round of publicity will bring visitors back again.

So what can smaller museums learn from this example?

Small museums are unlikely to get the scale of press coverage that NHM had, but refreshing displays does encourage people to make return visits. It also means that items that would otherwise be sitting in store are seen. Fragile items that can’t be on permanent display due to lighting levels can be made available to the public for short periods of time. The scale of this “refreshing” can range from simply changing the contents of a case in your permanent display, to a temporary exhibition telling a particular story or even a full redisplay of your museum.

If you are making a significant change this can cause controversy amongst local audiences. However, with clear communication (or even better, consultation) we can bring people over to our side (or at least explain why we’re making a change).

Augmented reality at Colchester Castle

A visitor exploring the new displays at Colchester Castle

Tom Hodgson, Colchester Museum Manager, oversaw the recent HLF-funded redisplay of Colchester Caste:

“The redevelopment of Colchester Castle has had a huge and immediate impact and our visitors are clearly delighted by the mix of object rich displays, lively interactives and audio visuals. They are also pleased by the balance we have struck between displaying the collections and showcasing the Castle itself. A few of our visitors are not yet sold on the more modern innovations, but the vast majority have appreciated the use of new technologies such as virtual reality and digital tablets to add further layers and depth to our interpretation. In the nine months since we re-opened on 2 May last year we have received over 88,000 visitors to the Castle – the same figure that we achieved in 2011/12 our last full year of opening. We are expecting to welcome over 100,000 visitors by the end of March”.

If you anticipate that the public are going to complain about changes, particularly on social media, it’s important to maintain a level head in your responses. This “Storify” by the NHM of responses to the news about Dippy is a master-class in good social media management: https://storify.com/NHM_London/blue-whale-to-take-centre-stage

~Amy Cotterill, Museum Development Officer

#FundingWeek: Heritage Lottery Funding for Museums

Colchester Castle

Visitors enjoying the new displays at Colchester Castle

Stuart Hobley is Development Manager for Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) in the East of England. In this blog he outlines some of the museum projects in Essex that have received funds along with steps you can take to apply for support.

“I love museums. Really, I do – they’re full of some of the most remarkable stories. From Wallace the Lion at Saffron Walden to Boudica attacks at Colchester… and HLF loves a museum too, from your big regionals to independent and volunteer-run; to accredited and non-accredited, we’ve funded many of them!

And the list of things we’ve funded is pretty long too… redisplay, volunteer skills and development, developing learning and outreach, improving storage and access, even buying objects and artefacts to help you offer more (just ask Gordon at the Fry Art Gallery…). We can even fund those less exciting (but also important) things like toilets when they are part of a wider project.

What makes a compelling project for HLF?

Essex Police Museum have also benefited from HLF funding

Essex Police Museum has also benefited from HLF funding

That’s down to you. Think about the stories you want to share and why it’s important that more people know about them. We want you to improve your museum for existing visitors and reach out to new audiences.

Who are you doing the project for? We want more people, and a wider range of people to #loveheritage as much as we do. Think about those people; have you thought about what they want from your museum?

What will your project actually do? Don’t use jargon – just be clear and tell us straight what the project benefits will be. We want to fund believable projects, including those schemes that can help you be more resilient.

How will you do it? It’s OK to start your thinking with that ‘wish list’ of stuff you want, but a wish list isn’t a project. A project is about connecting up all of these things and using them to tell us the difference you will make for heritage, for people and for your community. Think about it this way, that’s what HLF is buying off you – a project that makes a difference.

Delivering a project isn’t easy; you’ll need support from your volunteers and your Board; ask yourself, do you have the right governance to take on a project? Doing a project will help to develop skills but if you’re planning something big, do some groundwork first because by the time you’ve finished doing a project, you will look and feel like a very different Museum. And if you’re not ready to take on a big project? Why not start small: do something more modest and build your capacity and confidence.

HLF isn’t the answer to everything though. We can help you make changes and improvements but you have to convince us why funding is needed. You’ll have to fill in forms… and our funding is competitive… the truth is, you may not be successful. When that happens we will tell you why; listen to what we say and then think about a new application.

But don’t let competition put you off – we’ll give you the best advice we can before you apply and we have a whole range of grant programmes and guidance that can help you to develop a strong project.

If you want to get started do a project enquiry and get feedback direct from us before you apply. The project enquiry is free and informal – we just need initial thoughts to start that conversation. If it looks promising, we’ll let you know and if it doesn’t look promising, we’ll tell you that too.


From oral history work at Essex Fire Museum in Grays to the transformation of Epping Forest Museum (currently underway), the next Essex museum project we fund could be yours…

So, stop reading this and start telling us about your ideas!”

Heritage Lottery Fund