Heritage Volunteering Conference, Museum of London, April 2018

Despite the fact it was held on Friday 13th I had a really interesting day at the Heritage Volunteering Conference and nothing bad happened to me, which was a bonus as I had been invited to speak alongside Adam Corsini on our Team CASPA volunteering project at the Museum of London.
IMG_0072The Heritage Volunteering Group are a networking forum to help volunteer managers connect and share best practice. This was their third national conference which packed in work shops and case studies that gave examples of new ways to develop and engage a wider volunteering base.

Director of the Museum of London, Sharon Ament welcomed delegates and spoke of the challenges ahead in engaging volunteers in a new museum as the Museum of London make plans to move to Smithfield and open in 2023. She also celebrated the fact the Museum of London was one of the first museums in London to hold the Investing in Volunteers Award. As a Museum of London volunteer I can definitely say I have benefitted from their commitment and dedication to volunteers.

Mike Clewley, Senior Cultural Tourism Officer in the Mayor of London’s Culture team at City Hall, opened with a keynote celebrating the diverse heritage of London with a favourable nod to David Bowie.

IMG_0082I began the day sitting in on a workshop from English Heritage – ‘Shouting Out Loud’ giving young people a voice in heritage, with Katharine Auber Hill, Jodie Hoskin and Annie Bethell. The session looked at their approach to involve a diverse range of young people through their ‘Kick the Dust’ programme funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

They talked through their use of consulting to really understand some of the barriers to engaging young people and gave practical tips on working with that age group. Some of the barriers we discussed included how to give young people a real governance voice and not just tick a diversity box. How to ensure safeguarding and adequate supervision for the young people, particularly where staff were stretched.

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Volunteer managers passionate about creating memorable experiences for volunteers.

Barriers of class, language and previous negative experiences of history at school or exams meant it was important to make history relevant whether it was looking at the history of grime music or graffiti. Many young people have had negative experiences in heritage spaces being told what they can and can’t do. This quote in particular struck me as quite powerful –

“There seems to be rules I don’t understand, like only walking round one way”.

There were general conversations about how to engage young people who want to use their free time to earn money rather than volunteering and how the benefit and ‘what’s in it for you’ approach needed to be used to encourage their commitment. Local and family history proved very popular and the need for relevant activities, many felt the current offer in museums and heritage venues was aimed at younger children. There was also some discussion on how to capture feedback and evaluation to meet Heritage Lottery Fund requirements which could often be challenging, but having a scribe on hand willing to jot down thoughts could also really help as literacy skills could be a barrier particularly if dealing with young refugees.

English heritage tend to reach young people with their families up to the age of 11 and then some tend to come back to them at the age of 16 when they begin volunteering, it was the 11-16 age group they were more interested in as it was a group they don’t often get to work with.

They partnered with a number of organisations to carry out the consultancy including music charity, Sound Connections who had experience of working with this age group. They also worked with Young Archaeologists’ Clubs as they already have an engaged group of this age. The consultation they undertook involved outreach and round tables at youth centres that were often youth facilitated. English Heritage also spoke to existing youth panels at Tullie House and Westonbirt Arboretum to get a sense of what worked well. Flexibility in programmes was also important allowing young people to drop in and out, which can be challenging to organise but gave more freedom to get involved.

The English Heritage team briefly mentioned their plans for a fashion show at Eltham Palace, immersive theatre in a World War II bunker and the history of graffiti at Stone Henge. It was a really interesting session and I look forward to hearing more about their work.

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Karl Wilding, NCVO.

In the afternoon (after our talk which you can find out more about here) there was a second keynote by Karl Wilding, Director of Public Policy and Volunteering, NCVO. It was a though provoking talk about the nature of volunteering and how it is changing. Also how demands on volunteers and cuts to public services often mean museums and heritage venues have to compete with more socially orientated volunteering.

My final session of the day was facilitated by Claire Sully from Volunteer Makers and Fran Riando from the Geffrye Museum on ‘The added value when engaging 21st century volunteers’. Claire really made me look at volunteering in a new way, she got us to think about the time we give for Parent Teacher Associations and school fairs, park runs and even organising street parties.

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Love Falmouth Volunteer Makers website – https://lovefalmouthvolunteers.volunteermakers.org

Volunteer Makers is a way of using community engagement and volunteering in a blended way, using a new model and technology supported by Arts Council England and Creative England. Fran from the Geffrye Museum talked about using this model particularly when their museum is closed for refurbishment to engage a new volunteer base with increased participants from more diverse backgrounds. It was interesting that they still had some work to do to sign up their existing volunteers a note of caution not to alienate those currently committed to your museum in search of the new.

Volunteer Makers real strength is in harnessing a growing volunteer community who can only commit to small amounts of volunteer time. Claire used the example of the Love Falmouth website where the community can sign up to ‘challenges’ regardless of how much time they have. It allows those who are interested to play to their strengths and offer skills. For example in a few minutes you can browse their online collections and post a favourite image to a friend or share it on social media. The session really did make me think about new ways of working with volunteers.

The day finished off with a celebration of all those volunteer managers who put their time, energy and personalities into creating warm, meaningful and interesting experiences for volunteers. Congratulations go to Nicola Seika who won volunteer manager of the year.

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Huge thanks to Vanessa Theed for organising the conference.

If you have an interest in volunteer management at any level I recommend following the group on social media and keep an eye out for next year’s conference I am sure it will be as thought provoking as this one.

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You can find out more about the Heritage Volunteering Group here – http://www.heritagevolunteeringgroup.org.uk/

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