Alice Wilby, a volunteer at Oxford University Museums, facepainting a young visitor. Photographer: Christopher Wood

Oxford University Museums and Collections

Joy Todd, 16.09.2013
The joint volunteer service for Oxford University Museums and Collections coordinates a pool of about 450 volunteers across the seven museums and collections.

Initially set up to encourage time-strapped university students and staff to support family and community events, a key feature of the programme is that volunteers can help as much or as little as they like, at whichever institution they want.  

After registering interest online, volunteers are invited to an interview and induction, and then receive emails listing opportunities – the rest is up to them.

Some volunteers do show a passion for a particular museum, but often they are more concerned about the type of experience they have. Volunteers are able to meet different museum staff and can compare and contrast spaces, audiences, and approaches to public engagement.

On a recent survey one volunteer said: “I enjoyed being able to work on a wide range of projects and the flexibility of being able to choose (sometimes a month or more in advance) which events I would help out with.”

Another said: “I like the set-up that allows you to just drop in for an event. If there was more prep beforehand, that would put me off”.  

While most volunteers offer between two and 20 hours helping at events, a few keen individuals manage over 250 hours a year.

Oxford is a city with a young and transient population, but it’s not just students that have responded to this ad-hoc style of volunteering.  

The service has grown beyond its original remit and now 65% of our volunteers are from other parts of the local community. Volunteers can also access more regular opportunities too.

Accessing a pool of volunteers in this way has transformed the museums’ ability to deploy large numbers of confident volunteers to deliver large-scale events, as well as sparking new public engagement programmes.

In 2012 volunteers helped us put on three times as many activities (862) as they did five years ago. For that we, and our visitors, are very grateful.

Joy Todd is the head of the joint museums volunteer service at Oxford University Museums