Image: Museum of East Anglian Life

Museum of East Anglian Life sees remote volunteer numbers soar during lockdown

Geraldine Kendall Adams, 24.04.2020
The museum has tripled its cataloguing output thanks to global volunteer base
The coronavirus lockdown has brought much museum activity to a standstill, but there is some positive news from the Museum of East Anglian Life, which has seen the number of people participating in its remote volunteering project rise significantly.

The Suffolk museum's Search for the Stars initiative, which is one strand of a collections project funded by the Museums Association’s Esmée Fairbairn Collections Fund, engages volunteers to help transfer 40,000 paper object records to the museum's online collection.

Remote volunteering was already a central part of the project before the Covid-19 outbreak, but since the lockdown began last month, the museum has trained up 30 new remote volunteers, which it says is a “massive step up” from the usual number who start each month.  

The lockdown has also transformed the age profile of its volunteers. A spokeswoman for the museum said: “The cataloguing project has particularly engaged younger volunteers to give their time to something purposeful whilst many are unable to study, work or volunteer in their usual heritage sites. 85% of our new recruits fall in the 20-34 age bracket, while 10% are ages 35-49 and the remaining 5% are 50 plus.”

People from around the globe are taking part. The spokeswoman said: “Being able to offer remote volunteering has attracted people from all over the globe, with nationalities of new recruits including Spanish, Chinese, Taiwanese, Hungarian, Greek, French and Italian.

“Many of these volunteers are studying in the UK on a museums or heritage course and are looking to expand their skillset and experience. Some are volunteering from their home countries during the widespread lockdown.”

The museum is capturing and sharing stories across social media from these new volunteers in order to spread positive news during its closure. One new recruit, Jin, said volunteering with the museum had been an “opportunity to convert any anxiety or uncertainty into satisfaction and fulfilment”.

The extra help from volunteers, as well as from redeployed staff, enabled the museum to triple its monthly cataloguing figure to around 1,500 records in March.

The spokeswoman said: “The benefits are two-fold; we will complete the cataloguing much quicker than anticipated and we’re increasing awareness and understanding of the project internally to staff members and volunteers from other departments, as well as externally to the public and participants.”

The Esmée Fairbairn Collections Fund will shortly be announcing a new funding stream in response to the Covid-19 crisis. See our website next week for further details


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24.04.2020, 15:16
This is a wonderful story. A brilliant example of the important role can museums play. It will be interesting to see if the model spreads. I wonder if it can be used to invite real world meetup and visits when people are again free to visit.