Volunteer Makers strengthens the future of volunteering in Museums – by Clare Lyall, Museum expansion Director at Trowbridge Museum

On the 10th November,Trowbridge Museum staff attended an excellent Volunteer Makers workshop run by Claire Scully, discovering how they could utilize a pioneering app to enable us to develop an effective strategic approach to volunteering.

The software provides you with a digital platform which you then build upon to create a volunteer community which encompasses different types of volunteering. These can vary from supporting your marketing by tweeting about your events, to assisting with Learning and Outreach activities, to cleaning your collections.

The possibilities are quite literally endless. This excellent system enables you to engage with far more of the wider community and offers that community a far broader range of volunteering opportunities with greater flexibility. It also enables museums to measure the huge value of volunteers in terms of economic impact, sustainability and diversity.

In a period when the number of those who are volunteering is actually going down and many people increasingly regard themselves as time poor, the Volunteer Makers app can only strengthen the museum sector’s position.

Guest Blog by Caroline Morris – The return effect on me

I first saw the Corinium Volunteer Makers site when I was casually looking for volunteering opportunities in local museums. Most sites were singularly unhelpful in this search but the access to the Corinium Museum’s Volunteer Maker site was very easy. Once I started at the museum, I was bowled over by the welcome I received and their appreciation of the skills I could bring.

I was asked to document the contents of the loans and resource boxes and later update their database. I have carefully photographed replica and ‘real’ objects associated with, amongst others, the Bronze Age, Anglo Saxons, Romans, and my particular favourite box, a Tailor’s Shop. Although clearly many of these objects are replicas, I still found the experience of handling museum objects exciting. I have spent a number of years studying museums and now I was getting to experience the real deal.

This photography task has its challenges, even lighting for one. These simple images were to be used as documentation but they also needed to be used to illustrate the written material contained in the boxes. I therefore needed to make sure the images truly reflected the originals as much as possible, only occasionally assisted by Photoshop. Some of them also need cutting out and inserting into documents. I have enjoyed the challenge.

I have photographed other less conventional objects. A local knit and natter group made a series of woolly monks to help celebrate the 900th anniversary of Cirencester Abbey. These were to be placed around the museum as a trail for children to follow. I was asked to create the trail sheet and images for advertising it. I took my twelve little woolly chums around the museum and found appropriate places to ‘shoot’ them in. I also did a little research to find out their proper names within a monastic community. The resulting trail turned out to be the most successful children’s trail to date.

In addition, I have been able to combine my part time job with Waterstones with the museum volunteering. With my events management hat on, I initiated a collaboration with the museum to bring authors to do workshops and give talks – I am particularly excited about the talk by Andrew Taylor taking place in April 2018.

Clearly the museum are getting something out of my weekly visits but I was unprepared for the return effect it would have on me. I had spent a number of years in research where I have not used my photographic skills or visual creativity (despite my background as an artist), and although this role may not sound like it, actually it woke up that dormant part of my brain. Since I started I have been able to create work again and I have all sorts of ideas flowing around my mind again. Some of which are directly inspired by my experience – I have begun to think about how I could create some work responding to the museum’s collection, or to the forthcoming changes to some of the galleries in the museum. I would also like to get into the museum stores at some point and get my hands on ‘real’ artefacts. This has definitely been a mutually beneficial relationship which I  want to continue.

Caroline Morris, Volunteer Maker, Corinium Museum @CoriniumMuseum