Laptop displaying UOC Volunteer Makers website

UNIVERSITY’S CHALLENGES ARE A HIT WITH VOLUNTEERS

Housing some of the most valuable and irreplaceable artefacts in Britain, University of Cambridge Museums is a heritage group like few others.

With eight widely different museums and a botanical gardens, all operating in a semi-autonomous manner and tied to one of the world’s greatest universities, UCM has a history of working closely with local communities in innovative ways.

It was following in this tradition that UCM began working with Tickbox Marketing’s Volunteer Makers team a few years ago, unveiling a new volunteering platform driven by Volunteer Makers tech in its website last year.

“Volunteer Makers gave our institutions a joined-up approach, while allowing each museum to set its own challenges and adapt things to its own needs – it isn’t a prescriptive ‘one size fits all’ approach,” explains Nikki Hughes, UCM’s Opening Doors project co-ordinator.

Nikki has championed the Volunteer Makers system at UCM and as familiarity grew with the concept, it is now used by most of the institutions to recruit volunteers and manage their tasks.

UCM now has 586 volunteers signed up, from all walks of life, and these helpers interact with its museums in a variety of ways.

“For some it’s completing a challenge that may only take an hour or so, for others it is helping with a specific task for a day, while others take up front-of-house duties on an ongoing basis,” Nikki notes.

“From our point of view, Volunteer Makers has been a great boon in managing the administration of this. In the past, we might have had bits of paper flying about between museums whereas now its digital, its measurable and we can track precisely,” she adds.

The Covid-19 lockdown has meant UCM’s institutions have had to get inventive in its challenges – but as could be expected – it has risen to the challenge.

Volunteer tasks could be as diverse as recording nature sounds from their own gardens, to getting involved in the Museum Remix project – a way in which the public could get involved in reinterpreting USM’s artefacts, and help redesign displays and layout.

As the doors to the various collections begin to open up again, Volunteer Makers has helped recruit volunteers to work in front-of-house roles, in outreach work and to run specialist tours.

“Volunteer Makers has made filling these roles so much easier and just as importantly it has allowed us to keep the public engaged with us while the lockdown kept doors closed,” Nikki says.

“We wanted to keep the community engaged with and interested in UCM and Volunteer Makers has been an invaluable tool for doing this,” she concludes.

OLDHAM SHOW HOW TO REACH PEOPLE – EVEN IN LOCKDOWN

The coronavirus emergency has left us with all sorts of challenges, including how to remain connected with others and still benefit from being part of community. For heritage, arts and other charity organisations the question is how do we remain connected to volunteers and supporters? And how do these organisations continue to build their numbers in order to thrive during and after lockdown.

Take Part Oldham’s Volunteer Makers has launched during the most difficult time in our country’s post-war history, but it has hit the ground running and built engagement with local organisations, helped by Volunteer Makers.

Volunteer Makers embodies Tickbox’s “tech for good” ethos: Using tech creatively and strategically to connect communities, building engagement and allowing measurable benefits to flow.

The Arts, Heritage, Libraries and Music services in Oldham have got together to create Take Part Oldham, an online space using Volunteer Makers, that makes it easy to see what community activities local people can get involved in. What is significant is Take Part Oldham launched during lockdown. Take Part Oldham has 37 creative challenges running and has signed up more than 100 people (and rising) to take part remotely.

Music is an important part of the heritage, libraries and art grouping that makes up Take Part Oldham and one challenge asks people to stage an impromptu gig in their gardens at 4pm any day they choose.

The results are uploaded onto social media and as well as keeping up morale (and raising a few laughs) in these difficult times, the initiative links in the community with the arts in Oldham.

Another creative challenge gets people to post online book reviews: a great lockdown idea which not only encourages reading but builds engagement with Oldham libraries, who are tagged in by this virtual book club.

Keep fit meets the arts when Oldham Theatre Workshop’s Craig Harris holds a series of streamed daily warm-up exercises. The public can log on and warm up like a professional actor in a challenge that builds engagement with the theatre.

Lockdown means being inventive with challenges, but lots of people online with lots of time on their hands equals a great opportunity for reaching out and making connections with the public. Connections that should last even when the virus is vanquished. Connections that may last a lifetime.

Volunteer Makers showcased to the movers and shakers

Tickbox were invited to join a number of museum and heritage organisations based in the South West and South East to share best practice and learning around managing volunteers.

The Museum Volunteer Co-ordinators Forum was held in Swindon on February 27th and the theme was “Tools and Tips for Better Working”. It was organised by South West Museum Development (SWMD) and their South East counterpart: South East Museum Development (SEmuseumDP).

Both SWMD and SEmuseumDP are ACE-funded museum development programmes that enable museums in their regions to evolve and thrive.

Around 50 + delegates joined the seminar to hear case studies, share ideas and best practice and network. It was also an opportunity to hear from companies like Tickbox about tech that can inspire. Volunteer Makers is an engagement model and technology product designed to help organisations establish/grow a supporter/volunteer community. It also provides useful tools to manage volunteers.

Volunteer Makers has been driven by collaborative working with heritage organisations, started around 6 years ago with Luton Culture and Museum Makers. It helps organisations think through and deliver their volunteer strategy.

Engage in Gloucester – Volunteer Makers has been working with Volunteer Makers for the past 2 years and the Engage in Gloucester platform was launched in October 2019. Since then it has gone on to have a significant impact for Gloucester Culture Trust and their 62 heritage partners.

Engage in Gloucester has shifted the face of volunteering for Gloucester,” said Director of Gloucester Culture Hollie Smith-Charles at the event. “We have got better at thinking through accessible volunteer opportunities and thinking what’s in it for the volunteer. This has led us to effectively reach the people we need to, including younger people – who make up 40% of the population”.

Other speakers sharing their volunteer  management experience included:

Paola Palmer, Still Curious Project Coordinator and Hampshire Cultural Officer, The Red House Museum.

Hollie Foskett-Barnes, Membership Co-ordinator, Museum of East Asian Art, Bath.

Joy Todd, Head of Volunteering and Community Engagement, Gardens and Museums (GLAM), University of Oxford.

Tickbox MD and Programme Director for Volunteer Makers Claire Sully was asked to give a brief introduction to Volunteer Makers to further support the case study provided by Hollie Smith-Charles for Engage in Gloucester.

Claire said “Seeing Hollie demonstrating the positive impact of working with Volunteer Makers for Engage in Gloucester was very exciting. We know the tech is great, but the important thing is what the tech enables and for Gloucester this has been something quite extraordinary.”

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