Lesnes Abbey Woods is a green lung in built-up suburban south-east London.
Covering 88 acres of woodland, heath and park, it is centred around the ruins of the historic Medieval Lesnes Abbey.
Run by Bexley Council, the popular site has long had teams of volunteers helping with its maintenance.
The council was interested in getting the local community more connected with this jewel in its midst and expanding the ways volunteers engaged and helped out.
Which is where Pippa Smith and Tickbox Marketing’s Volunteer Makers model comes in.
Pippa is a freelancer who works with various organisations to help attract volunteers and to boost their effectiveness.
She had previously encountered Volunteer Makers during her work with Essex Museum’s Snapping the Stiletto project.
Snapping the Stiletto aimed to counter the cliched view of “Essex Girls” by telling the real story of women in the county. It was aided by masses of volunteers and garnered national media attention.
“With Lesnes, the project is all about getting people to engage with the site and get involved at whatever level they feel they can,” Pippa explains.
“We were working during the Global Pandemic which made things difficult, but we could overcome this by using digital engagement.
“By using what I like to call “light touch” volunteer challenges, we kept people interested in the site at a time when we couldn’t run actual events there and this was very important in keeping volunteer numbers up and in diversifying the kinds of volunteers we have.
“We have volunteers from all age ranges now and from all types of backgrounds: from keen gardeners to housebound people who may not visit the site but are champions for it on social media.”
Pippa firmly believes in the Volunteer Makers’ ethos of micro-volunteering: making volunteering something that can be done by anyone no matter how much or little time they have in their life.
“We began with Twitter. Our social media volunteers tweeting out challenges or retweeting positive messages to do with Lesnes,” she says.
“It gave people a sense of ownership, a relationship with the place, rather than see it as just a big, empty, green space.”
With a Volunteer Makers portal to make managing challenges less admin burdensome, the Lesnes Abbey Wood project team kept up a stream of volunteer challenges to attract all kinds of people.
They ranged from a photography challenge to a daffodil survey, a frogspawn count and participation in the national Big Butterfly Survey.
“It’s good to link Lesnes Abbey Woods with these national events,” Pippa notes, “We can put a local spin on them.”
With lockdowns lifted, the project can now expand to more hands-on roles, such as helping guide school visit groups and stewarding events in the park.
There is also a revamped Friends of Lesnes Abbey Woods group starting, with a good mix of volunteers from all ages investing their time in the park’s future.
Pippa is enthusiastic over how Volunteer Makers has helped Lesnes broaden its appeal.
“I’ve found it a very useful mechanism to revitalise volunteering. It allows people to get involved in so many different ways – it rethinks what volunteering is.” she says.
“Getting people invested in a space like Lesnes Abbey Woods helps not only secure the future of it, but benefits local people in so many ways. It builds a community.”
She does have one regret over the project though.
“Because of the lockdown and my other work, I haven’t been able to go there and visit the site yet!” she laughs.
“I know from my colleagues in Bexley and from volunteer feedback what a lovely place it is. I can’t wait to actually get there.”
History is all around us: It’s yesterday, last month, last year, as well as a century or a millennia ago.
For an archive service, the challenge is making the past “live on” and giving those in the present a sense of place and their roots within it.
Working with Volunteer Makers has helped Suffolk Archives’ goals of community engagement as well as enabling the service to work smarter.
Developed by Tickbox Marketing, who have years of experience of working with the heritage and culture sector, Volunteer Makers is a digital platform which allows charities to maximise public engagement, allowing people to micro-volunteer and participate in specific tasks as well as volunteer on an ongoing basis.
“Volunteer Makers has been a real boon. We can “sell” what we are doing in a much more attractive way and to a wider audience,” says Rebecca Harpur, volunteer engagement co-ordinator at Suffolk Archives.
Despite the challenges of the Pandemic, Rebecca and her colleagues had a busy 2020, moving many thousands of documents, maps, photographs, diagrams and artefacts to a new HQ on the Ipswich campus of the University of Suffolk.
The new base has a visitor centre and space for exhibitions, as well as the usual research facilities that most county archives provide. The team also maintain other collections in Bury St Edmunds and Lowestoft.
“The visitor centre helps us tell the county’s story from its founding to the present day,” Rebecca explains.
“We want to engage with everyone in the county: young and old; people who’ve been here for generations and new arrivals – including new arrivals from other countries.
“The archives tell us about the history, geography and economy of the county. It’s everything that roots us in where we are, and that’s an important story to tell.”
Suffolk Archives started working with Volunteer Makers in 2019, and they now close to 300 volunteers signed up to the platform.
“Even when volunteers aren’t active, the system helps us to get our messages out there and spread the word about what we are doing,” Rebecca notes.
“Traditionally, archives have a rather tight base of mainly older volunteers, but Volunteer Makers has diversified our appeal.
“We get lots of younger people looking to fulfil roles with us as a first step to employment, or to enhance their CVs.”
During Lockdown, volunteer engagement has needed some thought, but challenges are still made to those signed up. They can range from simply following on social media, to help with the collection of archive material.
Family challenges have seen the archive collect children’s stories of Lockdown, and challenging youngsters to make Lego representations of Suffolk landmarks. The archives have also worked with schools to tell the story of Suffolk’s WWII Polish community, a story that resonates with today’s children of Polish origin in the county.
“Volunteer Makers has been so helpful in widening our appeal, it’s such a handy tool,” enthuses Rebecca.
“From an administrative side as well, it has made keeping track of volunteers easier. Tickbox has just added a rota function which allows us to note who is doing what, where – without a mound of paper!”
Tickbox (the tech team behind Volunteer Makers) is offering charities, museums, arts and community organisations free online sessions to support new engagement strategies, following the impact of Covid 19 on volunteering and audience development.
Sessions can cover micro and remote volunteering, with non-contact participation in mind, and how to grow your volunteer and supporter community through digital engagement.
These sessions are free via Zoom during June and July. Sessions last approximately 40 minutes.
For charities, museums, arts organisations, community groups, and health and well-being projects who are facing immediate disruption and change, we are also offering support on using the Volunteer Makers platform, and on using digital marketing tools (Mailchimp, social media, Google tools).
If you want to find out more get in touch via email@example.com.
Getting the community engaged and involved in arts, heritage and culture, has long been an aim of civic bodies in Gloucester.
It’s an approach that both carries economic benefits, and individual ones: letting the city council support events and facilities, and promoting physical and mental wellbeing and social inclusion for residents.
The West Country city has been a successful adopter of a new engagement model and technology – Volunteer Makers – to aid these aims.
Gloucester Heritage Forum and other community groups established Engage in Gloucester a year ago, to pool ideas and resources and use the platform provided by Tickbox, a digital tech company based just down the road in Bristol. Tickbox’s vision is to build technology products that have a positive impact on the world, Volunteer Makers has been rolled out nationally – supported by Creative England and Arts Council England.
The results achieved by Engage in Gloucester, using Volunteer Makers, not only provided community and civic projects with more public participation, but brought younger supporters into the fold – a key ambition for the Council.
“Engage in Gloucester with Volunteer Makers has not only increased the number of volunteers, it has enabled a better engagement with the public and increased the scope of their involvement with community groups and projects,” says Sarah Orton, Gloucester Culture Trust’s Community Engagement and Volunteer Officer.
Engage in Gloucester’s Volunteer Makers platform has been used by nearly 60 groups based in or near the city, ranging from Gloucester City Museum and Archives, to a community gardening group and the Girl Guides.
Larger organisations often write their own volunteer “challenges” (opportunities) for supported participation, while Sarah co-ordinates and helps smaller groups write and manage theirs.
“It has tapped into the changing face of community engagement,” Sarah explains.
“People being able to offer a few hours here and there and dip into what they want to do and where they want to do it.
“We’ve seen a big increase in young volunteers. Sometimes students looking for experience, perhaps to put on their UCCA form or to gain a foothold in the heritage and charity sector; young people doing their Duke of Edinburgh Awards and others who just want to help out, maybe in a gap year.
“The technology suits them to the ground and helps them connect, though of course, we still have plenty of older users as well, including retired people.”
Micro-volunteering is what Volunteer Makers encourages, letting supporters match their skills and interests and give time as and when they can, to help charities achieve specific goals.
“We’ve seen people grow in confidence. One regular volunteer now has paid work in the sector.
“For all, it helps that the volunteer challenges mean it isn’t a case of ‘turn up and do what we ask you’ but supporters know what their role will be, they will understand what they’re doing – and are consequently more enthusiastic about it!”
Engage in Gloucester can list many notable successes: stewarding posts for the city carnival and other festivals are filled “almost instantly”, while data inputting roles at the city archives and local history festival, both in situ and as home-based work, have also proved very popular. A drop-in counselling service filled demanding ongoing receptionist roles thanks to Engage in Gloucester and Volunteer Makers. Environmental challenges have also “flown off the shelf”, as Sarah puts it.
“Flexibility is what makes it work for users – not everyone can give regular commitments, but many want to help out as-and-when.
“Our community groups say they are seeing a very high calibre of volunteer come forward. Volunteer Makers has really made a difference to how charity and community groups and events operate here. It’s been great!”
It’s just worked really well for us” Sarah concludes.
The approach to the Festive Season hasn’t slowed the pace of the Volunteer Makers’ team and our partner organisations. We now have thousands of people signed up to Volunteer Makers’ platforms across England and have engaged with organisations operating over 200 sites!
As we prepare to leave a busy and successful 2018 for Volunteer Makers, now’s the time to look at some of our “Christmas stars” who’ve upped their digital game via Volunteer Makers.
The Museum of Oxford is a pioneer organisation within Volunteer Makers, and despite being closed for redevelopment until 2020, has signed up more than 100 volunteers since the launch of their site in February.
That success was matched by Engage in Gloucester, a consortium of arts, heritage, cultural and community projects in the West Country city, who also added 100 new names to their volunteer platform. They launched their site in September, and have really engaged with Volunteer Makers’ ethos of using social media to build engagement and embed the organisation in their community.
Christmas hats off as well to trailblazing Tyne and Wear Museums – one of Volunteer Makers’ original pioneer partners – who have over 1,500 volunteers signed up at nine sites across the region via their site.
Finally, we must mention Essex-based community project Snapping the Stiletto, which in addition to garnering media interest, has also engaged 150 new volunteers since March. The project celebrates the lives and achievements of the women of Essex, and its success forms the launchpad for the Essex Women’s History Festival, in March 2019.
Although Volunteer Makers has proved a popular way to improve engagement with arts and heritage organisations, this is far from being the only sector the digital platform works with.
Carymoor Environmental Trust is a nature reserve and education centre developed on a landfill site in the heart of Somerset. The charity has just launched its Volunteer Makers’ site, looking to build its volunteering base and make supporting their mission fun via a series of challenges.
This month we also delivered a Volunteer Makers’ strategic training workshop to Horse World, a charity that supports rescue horses working with young people based in Bristol.
Further north, last month saw another new Volunteer Makers’ site launch. University of Liverpool Museums runs two sites – the Victoria Gallery and Museum and the Garstang Museum of Archaeology – both recognised as national centres of excellence. Volunteers speak of the sites as jewels of the city of Liverpool, and the Volunteer Makers’ platform will help the parent organisation garner new faces – and make the most of those already there!
As well as site launches, Volunteer Makers just ran a workshop in a city we are already familiar with via pioneers Heritage MK. This time it was with MK Gallery, who are looking to engage more supporters when their expanded site opens next year.
Anyone interested in finding out what a training workshop next year can do for your organisations’ engagement, please click here. We’d love to hear from you.
In 2019 Volunteer Makers will be further developing and rolling out its Sustainable Libraries programme – bringing the micro-volunteering and digital engagement message to this much cherished, but economically threatened, sector.
We are also in advanced talks with a region over a new strategic programme called Connecting Communities, Transforming Lives. Watch this space for news!
We wish all our partners, stakeholders, volunteers and staff a very happy Christmas holiday and look forward to working with you in 2019.
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.
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.
Hot sun was matched by hot demand for Volunteer Makers blend of micro-volunteering and digital engagement.
Love Falmouth Volunteer Makers have been spreading the word at Cornwall’s Brilliant Things conference.
Tamsin Bough and Sarah Scot, of Falmouth Art Gallery, spoke to the meeting on growing relationships with volunteers.
The conference – organised by the Cornish Museum Partnership – heard how Love Falmouth Volunteers (a partnership of cultural organisations led by Falmouth Art Gallery) use of the Volunteer Makers platform has not only brought new supporters to its members, but strengthened institutions’ links with the local community.
Early July saw a regular event in the VM calendar: attendance at the South West Fed’s annual conference in Exeter.
Volunteer Makers were among the sponsors of the event and had a trade stand at it. VM founder Claire Sully also gave a presentation on the VM concept to delegates.
South Wed Fed is a community of independent heritage organisations throughout South West England.
Claire Sully said: “Volunteer Makers, as an Arts Council England supported programme, first got lift off at the South West Fed Conference 2015 after a networking chat.
“We’re now working with over 70 organisations and love returning to where it all began, starting new conversations to see where they might take us next.”
One place they took Claire was from the south-west to the north-west, with a visit to Liverpool for the latest in Volunteer Makers’ rolling programme of training workshops.
Volunteer Makers worked with University of Liverpool Museums & Galleries to spread the word on how its digital and blended volunteering approach can manage, evaluate and enhance working with volunteers and supporters.
The group includes a quirky museum and well-regarded gallery in the Victoria Building – an architectural icon in itself, as well as a world-class museum of archaeology at Garstang.
Although many of Volunteer Makers’ users are traditional city museums, some are not – the apps blending of micro-volunteering with social benefits for supporters has applications in a variety of organisations.
A busy early June for the VM team was capped by the launch of a Volunteer Makers portal by a spectacular heritage destination, Glastonbury Abbey.
Launching, appropriately, in national Volunteers’ Week, the new portal aims to grow, diversify and engage volunteers with work at the 1,300-year-old Abbey – a site linked with Arthurian legend as well as Medieval monasticism and Henry VIII’s brutal Dissolution of The Monasteries.
Across the country from Somerset, another portal launched for a heritage group in Milton Keynes.
The VM model has proved to be very successful for heritage and arts organisations working as a consortia, and early indications are that the pattern could be repeated for HeritageMK.
HeritageMK includes sites showcasing the Roman and Saxon history of the area, as well as the home of Georgian poet William Cowper. It was there that Cowper’s friend John Newton wrote Amazing Grace.
The consortium also features the world-famous Bletchley Park, the stately home that became the centre for crucial Allied codebreaking in WWII.
Earlier in June, VM launched further South, with a portal at Southampton Heritage and Arts.
This group includes not only one of the port’s oldest surviving structures, the Tudor House, but SeasCity Museum where Southampton’s maritime history is explored, including a fascinating Titanic exhibition.
The city’s highly regarded Art Gallery is another organisation that will benefit from VM’s two-way model of volunteer engagement.
Volunteer Makers has proved a hit with organisations in Essex, and Chelmsford Museum became the latest to launch a VM portal.
The museum operates on three sites in the bustling county town, telling the archaeological, military and industrial history of the region and much more.
Elsewhere, one of VM’s smallest pioneering operations, the Holst Birthplace Museum in Cheltenham, has been recognised for its forward-thinking approach to volunteering.
The museum houses a fascinating archive on the composer Gustav Holst, who despite his Germanic name was a Gloucestershire lad.
Its active and innovative approach to supporters, now supported by its established Volunteer Makers portal, won it the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service.
As the Summer presses on, more and more organisations are finding through Volunteer Makers added value from engaging Volunteers in a 21st century way!
Oxford and Cambridge have long been associated with students – but it was Volunteer Makers’ message that was being studied there in a busy month for Volunteer Makers and the Tickbox team.
May began with a training day for staff at University of Cambridge Museums. The organisation runs eight separate highly regarded museums as well as a world-famous botanical garden.
The collections receive many millions of visitors, but the forward-thinking organisation has recently begun planning how Volunteer Makers can help them strategically engage their volunteers and supporters, creating a tangible value exchange and impact.
This aims to increase the reach of the museums; diversify the community visiting and working with them; support volunteer recruitment; and cut unnecessary paperwork, whilst beginning to collect anonymised data in a sensitive manner. This data includes analysis of volunteers’ skill sets.
Volunteer Makers’ Claire Sully headed to Cambridge’s twin university town Oxford for her next assignment.
Innovative gallery Modern Art Oxford tried Volunteer Makers and liked what it could do to help them manage and grow their community of supporters and helpers.
Claire guided staff through the next phase, training them to use the app and make best use of it. The gallery will enjoy 6 months of free usage and is looking forward to an ongoing relationship with Volunteer Makers.
David Juler, of the Museum of Oxford, explained how his organisation had been working with Volunteer Makers, and as a Volunteer Makers pioneer, they help shape the platform’s development. It’s a collaborative effort, with Tickbox actively seeking users’ feedback.
Some very positive feedback came from one Volunteer Maker user this month.
Snapping the Stiletto – a collaborative project run by multiple museums in Essex have recruited more than 100 volunteers since launch in March.
The project, which aims to smash the cliched “Essex Girl” view of women in the county, has been active users of Volunteer Makers. Manager Pippa Smith has been delighted with how the micro-volunteering it has encouraged, adds up to give real momentum to the project.
“It’s really interesting to see how the minutes add up. Our Just a Minute challenges have been popular and people who have signed up to share information on social media have spent around 16 hours on this- it may not feel like you are doing much at the time but every tweet or Facebook share really adds up!” she said.
Another breakthrough was achieved by the Volunteer Makers team with the production of a case studies booklet, which was launched at the Museums & Heritage Show.
Find out how others have used Volunteers Makers to aid and target volunteer recruitment and make that precious budget go further. Get in touch if you want a copy, or want to discuss training options.
Here are some more photos from this month’s activities: