Launches at all Points East and West for Volunteer Makers in the Summer

The summer months were no holiday for the Volunteer Makers’ team, with demand for the blended volunteering model and tech still high and new organisations and groups signing up to our vision.

The warm weather saw the launch of two major heritage groups’ Volunteer Makers portals.

Colchester and Ipswich Museums operate at six fascinating sites in Suffolk and north Essex. 

Ipswich Museum tells the story of this ancient town, and also has large galleries of exotic fauna, many collected in Victorian times, including one of the most comprehensive collection of British birds in the world.

Sharing the Victorian home with the museum, the town’s art gallery contains several notable works, including a number associated with the Suffolk-based Benton End Group, who were a major influence on 20th Century British art. Beautiful Christchurch Mansion, which dates to Tudor times, is the group’s third attraction in Ipswich.

In Colchester, there is a Natural History Museum, based in a historic church, Hollytrees Museum, an old mansion with some fascinating facts about the town – including that it was where the nursery rhyme Twinkle Twinkle Little Star was written!

The group also administers Colchester Castle, a grand Norman edifice, containing the largest Keep in England.

Colchester and Ipswich Museums have been Arts Council England supported pioneers in the Volunteer Makers programme, and their new portal showcases a range of imaginative challenges to engage the public in volunteering and supporting their sites.

Turning westward, another multi-site heritage group launch. Eleven organisations in Gloucester have joined together to form the Engage In Gloucester volunteering group.

Members include Gloucester Cathedral; the city’s museums and archives; its Civic trust and History Festival, and the ruined abbey of Llanthony Secunda.

Also in the group is the National Waterways Museum, which tells the story of Britain’s canal network and its crucial role in the economic development of the country, from a dockside setting.

Like their eastern counterparts, the Gloucester group has been a pioneer body, supported by Arts Council England, to develop and refine Volunteer Makers through feedback and trialling, working with our developers Tickbox Marketing.

Engage In Gloucester has a wide array of volunteer challenges and opportunities on its portal, fully engaging with the Micro-Volunteering revolution.

Spreading the word on micro and blended volunteering was Programme Director Claire’s task, when she joined Pippa Smith, Project Manager of the acclaimed Snapping the Stiletto project, at the GEM conference in Nottingham.

Snapping the Stiletto aims to counter the negative clichés surrounding “Essex Girls” by highlighting the positive and inspirational stories of women in the county.

Based on a collaborative and co-production approach, and utilising the stories, research and hard-work of 130 volunteers, it has been a major success, and was recently featured on BBC News.

The broadcaster noted the stories of these remarkable women “are being told not by the museums but by the volunteers. It is led by the women of Essex themselves”.

Claire and Pippa told the Conference that getting wise with how volunteers were used is essential for the heritage sector in the 21st Century.

But it isn’t just heritage organisations, that Volunteer Makers works with.

Recently, Claire carried out a training programme for the Cri du Chat Syndrome Support Group. Cri du Chat is a rare, but devastating genetic condition that affects 1 in 50,000 babies.  Its Volunteer Makers portal will bring carers and other supporters together to raise money, and donate practical help.

Also outside the museum and gallery hub of Volunteer Makers groups is Carymoor Environmental Trust in Somerset.

The trust has worked to “green” and encourage wildlife back to 100 acres of capped landfill site near Castle Cary.

As well as conservation work, it is a major educational destination for school groups wanting to find out about nature, land use and sustainability. Volunteers are at the heart of Carymoor’s work. Volunteer Makers’ training with the Trust spread the word on the new, smart approach to managing volunteer time.

So, a busy summer – and lots more in the calendar – for Volunteer Makers.

 

Before You Launch – Consider These 5 Tips

Here at Volunteer Makers we are always looking for ways to improve the success of our pioneers in engaging with volunteers and supporters in flexible and inspiring ways. Here are our top tips to consider before launch.

Tip 1
Think strategically about why you want to use Volunteer Makers to engage with your supporters. Is it a way of opening up new opportunities to regular volunteers? Do you want to encourage new and different types of supporters to join you? Do you want to offer flexible opportunities? Do you want supporters to help deliver a business objective (e.g. a redevelopment)?
Thinking about challenges including micro ones has completely made us rethink how we use volunteers. Before we were in a situation where we would recruit volunteers and think how we would use them. Now we look at the programme coming up and think about how to use volunteers on and off site. Fundamental shift for us” (Amanda, Corinium Museum)
The answers to this question will help shape your plan…

Tip 2
Devise and work to an action plan, including how to roll out Volunteer Makers and how to work together. Name people in the plan! Make it SMART.
Claire helped us to set an action plan during the workshop with a vision and aims. This, so far, has enabled the project to move forward. [We have] regular group meetings looking at our progress and working with the team and our current volunteers to overcome any challenges. Our officers are setting challenges, front of house staff are selling Volunteer Makers, volunteers are currently testing it. Everyone plays a part” (Jess, Rugby Art Gallery and Museum)
This plan must embed working organisation-wide…

Tip 3
Engage leadership in championing Volunteer Makers as part of your strategic engagement objectives. Get buy in across the whole organisation. An organisation-wide engagement culture helps to mitigate changes in staff that can impact roll out. Work across the whole organisation (including volunteers) to provide inspiring, flexible challenges that help deliver the organisation’s business need, understanding that almost anything can be framed as volunteering, engagement or support of your organisation.
Getting the whole organisation involved at all levels has been really important. Planning multiple opportunities for people to get involved and think about what aspects of Volunteer Makers might appeal to the motivations of different teams” (Fran, Geffrye Museum of the Home)
And for this to happen you need to set aside time…

Tip 4
Make sure you commit the time, and are supported to do that, to make rolling out and developing Volunteer Makers a success. Although Volunteer Makers doesn’t replace your approach or existing volunteer programmes, you do need time to make it as effective as possible in engaging your audience.
We have tried to work collaboratively across the organisation; in practical terms this has meant having a clear idea of time scale and key outcomes at different stages [which] has been really vital. This has helped to make sure that people have the information they need to contribute to decisions, reflect and feedback at each stage, whilst planning time to act on feedback where possible. We used a simple table to help keep track of this which allowed us to adjust the plan as needed” (Fran, Geffrye Museum of the Home)
And effective engagement means engaging digitally too…

Tip 5
How you are going to communicate your challenges is as important as coming up with them in the first place. Ensuring those responsible for marketing/social media are part of your organisation-wide buy in is essential. Engaging digitally is key, and you need to be social (e.g. a blog, social media) if you are going to diversify your volunteers and reach a broader range of people.

Anna Bryant, MA, AMA, Marketing and Engagement Manager, Volunteer Makers
Anna has worked in and for museums of all shapes and sizes across curatorial, interpretation, audience development and marketing roles during the last 18 years.

Volunteer Makers start the year with stilettos, armour and dreaming spires

If 2017 was a busy year for Claire Sully and the Tickbox team as Volunteer Makers caught imaginations up and down the country, so 2018 has continued to build on that momentum.

Claire led Volunteer Makers workshops at the Royal Armories Leeds and with  Snapping the Stiletto, an Essex County Council inter-museum project.

These popular workshops explore how organisations can tap into the micro-volunteering revolution and how they can use the Volunteer Makers platform to achieve this for free for 6 months, followed after by low monthly fees.

Royal Armories is the home of the national arms and armour collection and is a must for militaria buffs as well as all those with an interest in our nation’s history.

Opened in 1996, the Leeds museum complements other Royal Armories’ sites at the Tower of London, and Fort Nelson, near Fareham.

From the weapons of yore to destroying the stereotypes of “Essex Girls”, the next assignment could not have been more different!

Snapping The Stiletto is a project that helps rebuff the “white mini-dress and high heels” cliché attached to Essex, by bringing the county’s museums together to uncover the real stories of strong and pioneering women.

Bringing these hidden stories to the public involved many volunteers, and this is where Volunteer Makers came in.

Museum Project Officer Pippa Smith said: “The training was really useful in bringing together the partners and giving us the time and space to reflect on where we all are with volunteering in our various organisations and how we can move forward.

“For me personally it showed me how the platform can work really well to provide a framework for what is quite a complicated project with a lot of partners.”

Another January highlight was when the Museum of Oxford launched its Volunteer Makers’ platform.

Its volunteer challenge scheme is designed to gamify working with the museum and encourages volunteers to fulfil a number of different roles and engage more closely with the institution’s work.

Cllr Dee Sinclair, who is on the board that runs the museum, summed up the Volunteer Makers’ ethos succinctly: “This is the perfect opportunity to expand volunteering to those who may not be able to regularly be involved. Volunteering can be flexible and can easily fit around your life.“

For more information on Volunteer Makers workshops with free use of the Volunteer Makers technology, get in touch.

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