Forty-five percent of heritage organisations in the UK depend on volunteer work that is critical to their operations – but 40% of them have no volunteering strategy whatsoever, says a new report from the Heritage Volunteering Group (HVG).
Creating Capacity: Rebuilding volunteering in the heritage sector post Covid is HVG's report on the significance of volunteers and the role volunteering might play in the recovery of museums and heritage sites following the pandemic.
The HVG, founded in 2014 to help organisations and volunteer managers through collaboration and sharing of best practice, worked with Historic England in 2020 to explore whether “a culture that allows [organisations] to fully leverage volunteer talent” existed at heritage sites around the UK.
The results of a survey of HVG members highlighted the importance of volunteers while also investigating the challenges facing the sector and identifying the support needed by volunteers and volunteer managers. The consequent report makes three key recommendations:
- Volunteer engagement, and support for volunteering, needs to become more strategic
- Support is needed to develop volunteering and create lasting cultural change
- Respondents feel generally confident to redeploy volunteers but have some concerns.
The future of volunteering is central to the report, though only 8% of respondents felt they were very well-equipped to develop new models of volunteering, and 38% said that they were not.
Specifically, respondents noted that organisations need help to recruit more diverse volunteers, to create ways to engage volunteers, and to share and access resources. Buy-in and support from senior leadership was seen to be significant in achieving lasting changes.
Respondents also highlighted the need for more training across a range of skills, and increased resources – more than 50% said that they had trouble accessing specialist advice and a third identified problems accessing materials for training and guidance and examples of best practice.
The report has been welcomed by stakeholders in the sector. Tamsin Russell, workforce development officer at the Museums Association (MA), said: “Our commitment to workforce includes supporting everyone that works in and with museums – volunteers are one of our key membership audiences and their individual experience relates to how they are managed and the organisational culture.
“Creating Capacity provides great insights to those at the top of organisations and sector bodies around the drivers and requirements for change. From a professional development perspective, training and resources to support leadership and inclusion capability is highlighted as a need and the MA will be integrating this feedback in our review of our current workforce offer.”
In the executive summary, chair of the HVG Matt Hick said: “Volunteers are the route to a brighter future for our sector, but this will only happen if organisations think strategically about their involvement, invest in their participation and provide the leadership to create new and innovative models of volunteering.”
As heritage sites across the UK begin to reopen, volunteer managers are concerned about the impact of shielding on the scale and capacity of the volunteer workforce, and longer-term, survey respondents expressed concerns about job substitution, replacement and displacement, and the role volunteers might be asked to play in the face of job cuts.