This blog is late because the time I’d planned to write it I was sitting on the museum reception. The Holst Birthplace Museum reception is entirely staffed by volunteers, what we call a Visitor Experience Assistant. If no volunteers sign up I have to work on reception. It’s not that as curator of the museum I feel this is beneath me in any way – it’s just that my time could be better spent doing other things, such as looking after the collections or planning our next HLF project. However, an even worse scenario than me being let loose on the till is closure. When I’m not in the museum and we have no volunteers signed up we have to close, often at very short notice.
Closing and staffing the reception with the curator is not a regular occurrence, although it has happened more and more in the past 18 months. The bottom line is the museum needs more volunteers. The issue is that volunteering is changing and we and other museums have to adapt to this change. Whether it’s understanding that the demands and interests of retired people has changed, or that digital media is crucial to engagement and recruitment.
There have always been issues with getting four volunteers a day to run our reception – even back in 2008 when I first joined. However the gaps have become more regular and crisis points more frequent. In 2015 we had an Arts Council Resilience project which focused on our volunteering. This involved employing a consultant to look at our volunteering programme. This introduced us to terms such as micro-volunteering and helped us to write essential policies. Nevertheless we still didn’t seem to have a successful way to recruit volunteers. This is where Volunteer Makers comes in. The method used by Volunteer Makers, a digital platform where both micro-volunteering and long-term volunteering opportunities sit side by side, seemed immediately attractive. I could see instantly the potential to grow a community of what Volunteer Makers call ‘blended volunteers’, and how this could start from someone volunteering to lay our fire once a week to eventually becoming a Visitor Experience Assistant.
We as an organisation are new to Volunteer Makers. We began our training in September and are still working on our plan. We have started to put challenges on to our very own Holst Birthplace Museum Volunteers website. Our aim is for the website to be live in January and to be full of exciting challenges such as spring cleaning our rooms, weeding the garden, laying that all important fire in October – April, and of course our core role, the Visitor Experience Assistant. My hope for our Volunteer Makers journey is that it will provide us with a sustainable way to recruit volunteers and therefore fill the gaps we have been experiencing. I also hope that there is a clear correlation between recruiting someone for micro-volunteering and them committing to a more regular, central role. Furthermore I hope it releases me from my stints on reception – I still haven’t had my induction on the till!
Laura Kinnear, Curator, Holst Birthplace Museum @HolstMuseum