This week (1st–7th June) is Volunteers’ Week, which celebrates the wonderful people across the country who give up their time to help others. Organisations of every type take on volunteers who assist them with their day-to-day activities. Museums in particular rely on many volunteers, who are essential to keeping us functioning.
In the current economic climate funding for museums, arts, and heritage has been drastically reduced. Many museums have limited budgets, and must keep the number of paid staff to the bare minimum whilst also caring for their collections, mounting exhibitions, and continuing to provide a service to their visitors. Without the support of volunteers who carry out vital museum work, the staff would not be able to run an effective attraction.
In my career so far, I have worked in museums of every possible type – from local authority, to independent, to national institutions. All of those museums are lucky enough to be supported by a dedicated team of volunteers who commit their time and skills on a regular basis.
At Horsham Museum we have a team of over 60 volunteers who range in age from their late teens to their late 80s. They work in cataloguing, administration, outreach, conservation, exhibition preparation, tours, research, carpentry, and gardening, and do much more. We have volunteers who have been with us for only a few months so far, and some who have been working here for 25 years. Some of our volunteers are also members of the Friends of Horsham Museum, a charitable, voluntary group who support the Museum by raising funds, advising the staff, and running events.
People volunteer for a variety of reasons; to learn new skills, to make new friends, to keep active, to improve one’s employability. Our volunteers are extremely knowledgeable, and have as deep an interest in history and heritage as our staff. The local knowledge of our volunteers has been essential for me, as a newcomer to Horsham and the South East, when researching visitor enquiries. I have personally benefited from the support of volunteers on many occasions; when setting up exhibitions, researching the collections, answering enquiries, and when I needed someone to make me smile on a hard day.
The purpose of Volunteers’ Week is to make sure that as many people as possible understand the value of what our volunteer workforce offer. It is important to remember that volunteers receive no financial reward for their time and expertise. Volunteers’ Week is a very small way that organisations like ours can highlight the fantastic work that volunteers do every day.