#VolunteersWeek: Students, Graduates and Small Museums

Cater Museum

The “traditional museum volunteer” starts once they’ve retired and volunteers regularly for ten or twenty years. However, in 2015 many museums are finding it hard to find people who are able/want to volunteer in this way so are changing the way they think of the role.

Here Christine Brewster, Volunteer Curator of the Cater Museum and Katie Wilkie, a recent university graduate and Cater Museum volunteer, talk about the benefits to the museum and the individual of having volunteer opportunities for students and recent graduates:

Christine: “Here at the Cater Museum we have benefited greatly from the assistance of the High School, University and Post-Graduate students who have applied to us to do voluntary work experience.  Many positions in the current economic climate require applicants to have had satisfactory experience in one or more institutions.  So this relationship can be beneficial to both parties.

Having volunteers may place a strain on the already limited man-hours of most institutions because for the experience to be beneficial, guidance and supervision are required.  But at the Cater Museum we have been fortunate in that the students wishing to come for experience have been of a very high calibre, highly literate and numerate, hard working and dedicated to history and heritage.  We have had, at times, a waiting list of students wishing to join us.  Again, for the experience to be of value, the numbers must be limited to ensure proper supervision.

In each case, we have encouraged our students to create a project which can be proudly presented to prospective employers or graduate schools.  The museum, needless to say, has greatly benefited by the quality of those projects.

My one  reservation has always been that I may be unable to get a student the recognition they deserve in museum circles.  Having a forum or regular meetings for the students would be ideal, but many are under financial restraints and must also balance the commitment of studies and exams with their practical work.

Our young volunteers have carried out numerous projects, from cataloguing and creating a database for our coins to transcribing a First World War diary.  By their very youth, they can be far better at using the computer and search engines and linking us to the digital world.”

Katie: “I have been volunteering at The Cater Museum since 2012 and it was through my voluntary work that I was taken on as a paid member of staff. Through volunteering and the projects I am undertaking I have gained valuable experience and skills.  Not only this, I have seen how a small museum is run and have become aware of some of the issues that face the museum and heritage industry.

Many employees are looking for people who have worked or volunteered in the industry and many of these employees started out by volunteering themselves.  It is a great way to gain valuable experience for a C.V. and one project could provide a volunteer with a variety of skills; documentation, research, handling, preventative conservation, photography and using collection management software.

While it can be a hard industry to get into all of the people I have met have been quick to encourage me and hand out useful advice. Volunteering is a great way of connecting with people in the same industry and making your face known when it comes to finding a job; it may also help to narrow down a career path.

There are other benefits to volunteering; it opens up opportunities for professional development. Some organisations offer training or membership to volunteers as well as paid staff. This can mean professional development, free entry to museums and exhibitions, events and publications.

The benefits of volunteering are multi-faceted.”

#VolunteersWeek: The vTeam – Partnership Opportunities With the Student Volunteering Team

A member of the vTeam supporting young people

A member of the vTeam supporting young people

Anya Visegorodceva is the Volunteer Co-ordinator for the University of Essex Students’ Union. Here she describes the work of the vTeam, a group who have the potential to support the work of many of our county.

Two members of the vTeamvTeam is a student led volunteer team at University of Essex Students’. Each year hundreds of students go out in the local community to help out charities, schools and not for profit organisations.

vTeam mainly does two types of projects: regular projects and one off projects. Regular projects run on a weekly basis in local schools, care homes and a refugee centre. Students deliver session on different topics anything from English to History and foreign languages. One-off projects happen throughout the year and usually take few hours, a day or are spread over two days. In the past we’ve worked with schools, charities, community halls and nature reserve completing different tasks. We paint, we dig, we cut shrubs and we steward events. In the last two years we had volunteers helping at both Oxjam Festival and Colchester Film Festivals, we worked at numerous schools in the local area and worked with countless charities and organisations.

A group of vTeam volunteersWe are always seeking new opportunities and our focus in the upcoming year is going to be on transferable skills volunteering. We are looking at offering variety of voluntary placements for our students that would benefit their CV’s. We are looking for admin, customer services, finance, marketing and social media placements.

In the past some of our students volunteered at local universities in their spare time and they built fantastic relationships with every venue. We always welcome new opportunities and are open to suggestions.

If you have something in mind or would like to work with us, send us an email to vteam@essex.ac.uk

The vTeam have bases at both the Colchester and Southed campuses of the University of Essex. If you would like to involve the team in a one off project but are concerned that your museum is to far away, please contact me as I may be able to provide transport.

#VolunteersWeek: Volunteering with Kids in Museums

2012 London Volunteer Awards

Jane at the 2012 London Volunteer Awards (back row, fourth from left)

Jane Allnutt is a freelance museum educator based in Essex. Here she shares her experiences of volunteering with Kids in Museums.

Volunteering takes you to places you wouldn’t normally reach….. it has certainly been true for me, in the six years since I began volunteering with Kids in Museums.

This charity has a Director, Trustees and a TV personality amongst its Patrons, but more importantly, it has a large number of valued and committed volunteers who rarely – if ever, meet together. We co-operate, support and keep in touch through the internet and by email. Back in 2009 this was unusual, but it is now ‘normal’ working practise for a lot of organisations. Each of the volunteers has a different role and we have recently appointed our first Volunteer Co-ordinator to ensure everyone who volunteers can contribute to projects which use their skills and ensure they feel valued by the organisation.

So what’s my role? Since I teach most of the time, I tend to volunteer on an irregular basis, but I still feel what I do is valued. I help out with one day events like the Family Fortunes, Teens, and Babies Workshops, usually held in a London museum – although we recently held a workshop in Kensington Palace and we have one in September at London Zoo! I log and monitor the documents downloaded from the website each month, I conduct the volunteer interviews and hopefully select the people with the skills we need. I also help out with Takeover Day in various venues and collect information and write Case Studies. In August I’ll be collecting feedback from the ‘under cover’ family judges who visit the 6 short-listed museums for the Most Family Friendly Museum Award. This involves lots of time spent on the telephone but it’s fascinating to hear how the families score the museums against the Kids in Museums Manifesto – 20 points to encourage museums to become more family friendly, and it’s their judgements which choose the final winner.

Over the years I have undertaken research (paid) for the Family Ticket Watch Report – to find out what museums, and families want from a Family /concessionary ticket. Sometimes the volunteering has led onto paid work for particular projects which is always a bonus!

I’ve attended a report launch at the Houses of Parliament, been to Private Views and Exhibition openings mingling with the rich and famous. I’ve also met some people I hugely admire – Michael Rosen, Judith Kerr and Quentin Blake (who drew the Kids in Museums logo) along with various Minsters, TV personalities, ‘top brass’ in the museum world and other inspiring people who support this unique and influential organisation.

Best of all I’ve met some awesome volunteers with fantastic drive and energy, fully committed to promoting Kids in Museums. Some like me have been volunteering for quite a few years, others volunteer for a short time on a particular project where they have specific skills. Check out the website www.kidsinmuseums.org.uk for more information on Kids in Museums.

Kids in Museums are currently recruiting for new volunteers. If you are interested in giving-back to the sector while broadening your experience for your CV, click here for more information.

#VolunteersWeek: Life as a Museum Volunteer

Tonight is the inaugural SHARE Museums East Volunteer Awards, which are taking place in Bury St Edmunds. Volunteers from Braintree Museums have been short-listed for four of these awards, so I asked Deke Dudley to share her experiences of volunteering at the museum.

Having worked for years in a demanding job as a Holiday Rep, long irregular hours, meeting wonderful people, meeting not-so-wonderful people and meeting the downright rude, impossible people, I was at a bit of a loose end on my retirement and permanent return to the UK.  Aha!  Volunteering would appear to be the answer, I could choose my hours to fit in around grandchild minding and it would, hopefully, be more flexible than a proper job.

Luckily, I decided to look in the Braintree District Museum for current bus timetables and lo and behold, there was an advertisement asking for volunteers.  I applied and was accepted immediately, I started volunteering on a Thursday and that has continued for over three years now.  It was soon discovered that I am computer literate so after a few months I became Volunteer Co-ordinator, my duties have been varied and various, besides keeping all our volunteers apprised of everything that is going on there is helping in the shop, helping with children’s activities, stock-taking, envelope filling, manning stalls at various fayres amongst other assorted activities.

Life as a volunteer is definitely not boring, and as support is constantly provided by staff, there is no need ever to feel out of your depth.   Volunteers provide such a vital role within modern society whether in charity shops, hospitals, museums, schools or anywhere else that asks for help, that the thanks received, although profuse, pales in comparison to the sense of fulfilment achieved by volunteering.

Volunteering is now in my blood, so much so that when I moved to Finchingfield and the opportunity arose to volunteer at the newly restored Guildhall, I offered my services there too, so I can now add to my list of duties, serving at coffee mornings, barmaid and giving talks to various groups on Finchingfield and the Guildhall.  So to anybody thinking of volunteering, no matter what you think you can’t do, you do have something to offer, and somebody somewhere needs your help, so go for it!  Remember, Volunteers are not, not paid because they are worthless, they are not paid because they priceless.

Good luck to everyone nominated for one of the Volunteering Awards.

Don’t forget that SHARE’s new Volunteer Coordinators Forum is launching on 2nd July!

#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: Young Curators

Lowewood Youth PanelFrancesca Pellegrino is the Audience Development Officer for
Epping Forest District and Lowewood Museums. In this guest post, she talks about her work with young volunteer
s.

As you may know Epping Forest District Museum is currently closed for a Heritage Lottery Fund redevelopment project. Whilst this is underway we are running and launching a number of new initiatives at our sister site Lowewood Museum before adopting the same model in the newly redeveloped museum in Waltham Abbey.

One of these new initiatives is a Youth Panel. After an extremely successful first attempt at Takeover Day in 2014 (part of a pilot project with SHARE Museums East to get more museums involved in this Kids in Museums initiative) we decided to setup a youth panel.

Lowewood Youth Panel Logo

The group designed their own logo

Lowewood Youth Panel 2The youth panel is aimed at ages 14-24 and the group will be given the opportunity to influence the types of events and activities the museum runs for the museum, act as consultants on the museum’s programme and take on projects and events throughout the year. The project is also the chance to learn lots of new skills, build a cv and meet people.

The youth panel meets once a month and has been running for a few months now. Their first project is to curate the final exhibition in the museum’s exhibition programme. They have decided the theme of the exhibition and will be working on all elements including the research, panel and label making, selecting and displaying objects as well as organising the private view and opening of the exhibition. As part of a special SHARE pilot project on the use of digital elements within the museum environment, the youth panel have decided to incorporate digital interactives into their exhibtion.

Here is what two members of the youth panel have to say about the project so far:

The Youth Panel is a group of young people who more or less take over the running of the museum, and we decide in what ways we make the museum more fun for the younger community. So far we have started the process of planning an exhibition that will go ahead later in the year. I feel the use of digital elements would enhance not only our learning but the learning of the members of the public that come in. I have enjoyed having fun and letting our imagination run wild in the planning of the exhibition.
JOSHUA

The Youth Panel is an organisation for young people to get together and take over the running of the museum and so far we have been planning for a new exhibition that is opening in October about the history of the schools in the area. I feel this will help bring in more young people into the museum. I have enjoyed the fact that I meet new people and get to know them, which helps me build my confidence up.
JESSICA

School’s Out: celebrating the history and memories of school life in the Borough of Broxbourne opens on Saturday 10 October.

Lowewood Youth Panel Flyer

#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