Volunteering for Shropshire's Heritage

Summary

Volunteering for Shropshire's Heritage is a three year long Heritage Lottery-funded project working across archives and museums. The project involves cataloguing, conservation, digitisation and promotion of, as well as research into, Shropshire's archives and museum collections. Over 300 volunteers are registered with the project and have already contributed (Christmas 2012) over 2,000 volunteer days. The project is also delivering exhibitions and web resources. The project will provide three heritage-wide apprenticeships with an attendant NVQ either in Information Technology or Business Administration and will provide new local history centres as well as supporting existing ones.        

It is planned that volunteer activities will continue across archives and museums once the project is completed.

Date of the project: September 2011-December 2014.

The project is mainly working across Shropshire (Council) Archives and Museums but also across Shropshire Libraries, Shropshire Museums Forum, Telford & Wrekin Libraries and Shropshire Council County Training, as well as many other local heritage organisations.

Funding

  • Grant of £206,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund
  • Cash contributions from others, including Shropshire Council, the Walker Trust (offers grants to Shropshire organisations and individuals in the areas of health and disability, education and training), the Ludlow Museum Development Appeal Trust, the Shropshire Archaeological and Historical Society  and the Friends of the Shropshire Archives
  • Contributions in kind from volunteers (targeted at £150,000 value, but likely to be in excess of £900,000), Shropshire Archives and Shropshire Museums Service 

Challenges

  • Delivering project objectives while ensuring a quality experience for the volunteers. The volunteer's experience needs to be relaxed and the atmosphere convivial and informal yet the targets need to be achieved
  • Managing volunteers requires a different skill set from managing paid staff. In particular working with a volunteer with special needs without external support was challenging
  • The scale of proof reading and editing the volunteers' work

Meeting the challenges

  • The project is supported by a Steering Group that monitors progress on a quarterly basis and makes recommendations for project management. There is an informal working group that meets once a month which also monitors progress and resolves any issues or problems as they arise
  • The volunteer with special needs is now working on a self-directed research project
  • Dedicated time was allocated for proof reading and editing. Therefore any problems identified during editing can now be resolved quickly

Outcomes

  • Positive feedback from volunteers:

'It's a big thrill being given the responsibility of caring for four hundred year old documents. Handling beautiful, handwritten pages helps give a direct connection through time to the character of the writer; it feels special. Also, I'm very grateful to be learning new skills and ways of working which make you feel far away from the rush of modern life.'

'The experience has taught me a lot about Carboniferous plants and has inspired me to go out on field trips and learn more. I have also enjoyed the social side of the experience; meeting new people with different interests has been very inspiring and rewarding.'

'I get a buzz from seeing something on the web and thinking, I helped put that there! I believe it is very important to make history available to all and, in a small way, I am helping to make this happen.'  

  • The last progress report to the Project Steering Group (November 2012) noted that 1,820 volunteer days had been contributed to the project, 6,211 documents had been conserved, 29,916 records and objects had been catalogued and that 5,844 objects had been digitised.

What went well and what didn't go quite as well

  • Improving knowledge about the histories of some Shropshire communities such as Shrewsbury and Much Wenlock
  • Learning about the experience of a diverse group of volunteers and their different motivations and specialisms
  • Approaching volunteer recruitment with a slightly 'gentler' touch, to manage expectations of potential volunteers. Recruitment 'calls' using the media can generate too many applications for available placements

Developments for the future

  • Development of volunteering for Shropshire's heritage will depend on the evolution of the  museums and archives services and any new governance arrangements that are put in place to manage them
  • Creation of a volunteers' focus group to enhance the profile of the volunteers and encourage further their self-governance
  • Exploring other areas of activity that might be appropriate for volunteer involvement.  

Find out more:

www.shropshirearchives.org.uk