Case Study: Cornwall’s Regimental Museum
Cornwall’s Regimental Museum is one of the museums we have connected with in our Volunteer Makers programme. We have been working with the museum as part of our national programme and talked to Visitor Experience and Collections Manager Verity Anthony about how the museum was already exploring new ways of working with volunteers and how they could develop the approach further.
How many volunteers do you currently have and who are they?
“Currently we have 25 volunteers overall, with some of these being regular volunteers who do operational roles like front of house, working in the shop, running the till etc
“Some of them help with research, and that can include things like answering people’s questions about their family history in the regiment.
“One of our regular volunteers is our regimental historian, he has been a volunteer for us for decades and has a great depth of knowledge about the history of the regiment.
“Our volunteers tend to be older – with most of our volunteers being retired people.
“We have a couple of volunteers with learning difficulties, and they carry out any sorts of volunteering they feel comfortable with. For instance one of them helps out with cleaning the galleries, but we are developing their role to get them more involved with the collections.”
Do you a take a museum-wide approach to your volunteering and volunteer engagement?
“Yes. In the last 18 months we’ve started having volunteers in positions like front of house and volunteers now play a big part in all areas of the museum, in running the museum and looking after the collections.
“We have volunteer weapons expert who is an ex-police officer and he helps with things like dealing with firearms licences as well as the collection itself.
“Other volunteers help with maintenance, paperwork and so on. The volunteers are very integrated and important to the museum and work to the same standards as the three paid staff. We rely heavily on our volunteers across the whole museum.”
How are you recruiting volunteers and are you looking to bring in new kinds of volunteers?
“A lot of our volunteer recruitment is through Volunteer Cornwall, who put up our volunteering opportunities on do-it.org. We currently have eight roles on there, from front of house to costume making.
“We try to use other approaches too, for example Mary [Godwin], our director, produced a YouTube video to promote volunteering opportunities in the museum. We also publicise our volunteer opportunities through all our social media channels.
“We’re also looking to extend links with Bodmin College to work with more volunteers with special educational needs, and this is part of our aim to build closer links with our local community.
“This area of Cornwall is not perhaps as culturally diverse as other parts of the country but we are committed to involving as wide a diversity as possible.
“We want to attract more people from the local community into the museum, to show them that it’s not just this big, imposing building it appears on the outside but somewhere they can come in and feel welcome.
“We’ve run events recently that have brought in people who live down the road but who have never been in before, and a few of these have expressed interest in becoming volunteers after seeing what goes on here.”
Do you do any work around remote or micro-volunteering?
“We haven’t by design done any micro-volunteering, but after getting involved with Volunteer Makers we’ve realised that some of what we do does fit with that approach.
“A lot of it is about changing mindsets – seeing things like asking people to Like us on Facebook as a form of volunteering.
“For instance at the moment we are trying to get 4282 poppies knitted to commemorate the people from our regiment who died in the First World War.
“You tend to think of that as public participation, but actually it’s getting a lot of people to volunteer their time for the museum and you can then connect further with them.
“Through this project we met a local knitting group where one of the members told us that they used to live in our building when it was a barracks. We’re now hoping to use that connection to work with her on providing some oral history.
“Regimental museums are having their MOD funding cut. We think we have 8 years before we may lose our funding so it is essential that we develop other forms of funding and income generation and improve the visitor experience to bring more people in.
“We want to run more events and try to attract people in to work with a specific event, to show that volunteering doesn’t have to mean committing to the museum long-term and can be more ad-hoc and that you can come and go.”
What are you doing around skills-matching and value exchange with your volunteers?
“Volunteering can be mutually beneficial – we have a recent volunteer who is working with us, to gain more experience and skills, having been out of work for a time.
“She’s now been on a volunteer management course, and has become our Volunteer Co-ordinator. This isn’t a paid role but the training will help us as she can apply what she learns to her role while giving her new skills when looking for a paid work.
“We want our volunteers to feel this is a supportive place where they can develop skills and take those away because that benefits us as much as them.
“Finding roles where people can use their skills is important too. A lot of our older volunteers are ex-military and they bring an awful lot of knowledge and expertise to the museum.
“Roles can be very specific to certain skills – our education officer volunteer is an ex-teacher for example – or they can be fairly loose. We try to be as inclusive as we can.”
How the Museum could work with Volunteer Makers
- Support their wider engagement with volunteers outside of their traditional geographic areas by enabling remote volunteering and bringing people together online
- Unpick the value exchange by giving volunteers a platform to manage and shape their own needs as an individual while contributing directly to the goals of the museum.
- Putting digital at the heart of their volunteering activity to streamline engagement, communication and valuation of volunteering throughout the whole museum.
- Building an always-there connection with volunteers so that relationships can be maintained even when other choices take volunteers away from their role for time.
- Creating a sense of community among volunteers through social and gamification elements – particularly useful where diverse communities and geography can cause a sense of disconnect.
- Providing tools for wider ideas sharing and discussion around projects such as the New Museum Network.
- Drilling down data to support an understanding of Blended Volunteering value, diversity and impact.