Suffolk Archives Volunteer Makers

History is all around us: It’s yesterday, last month, last year, as well as a century or a millennia ago.

For an archive service, the challenge is making the past “live on” and giving those in the present a sense of place and their roots within it.  

Working with Volunteer Makers has helped Suffolk Archives’ goals of community engagement as well as enabling the service to work smarter.

Developed by Tickbox Marketing, who have years of experience of working with the heritage and culture sector, Volunteer Makers is a digital platform which allows charities to maximise public engagement, allowing people to micro-volunteer and participate in specific tasks as well as volunteer on an ongoing basis.

“Volunteer Makers has been a real boon. We can “sell” what we are doing in a much more attractive way and to a wider audience,” says Rebecca Harpur, volunteer engagement co-ordinator at Suffolk Archives.

Despite the challenges of the Pandemic, Rebecca and her colleagues had a busy 2020, moving many thousands of documents, maps, photographs, diagrams and artefacts to a new HQ on the Ipswich campus of the University of Suffolk.

The new base has a visitor centre and space for exhibitions, as well as the usual research facilities that most county archives provide. The team also maintain other collections in Bury St Edmunds and Lowestoft.

“The visitor centre helps us tell the county’s story from its founding to the present day,” Rebecca explains.

“We want to engage with everyone in the county: young and old; people who’ve been here for generations and new arrivals – including new arrivals from other countries.

“The archives tell us about the history, geography and economy of the county. It’s everything that roots us in where we are, and that’s an important story to tell.”

Suffolk Archives started working with Volunteer Makers in 2019, and they now close to 300 volunteers signed up to the platform.

“Even when volunteers aren’t active, the system helps us to get our messages out there and spread the word about what we are doing,” Rebecca notes.

“Traditionally, archives have a rather tight base of mainly older volunteers, but Volunteer Makers has diversified our appeal.

“We get lots of younger people looking to fulfil roles with us as a first step to employment, or to enhance their CVs.”

During Lockdown, volunteer engagement has needed some thought, but challenges are still made to those signed up. They can range from simply following on social media, to help with the collection of archive material.

Family challenges have seen the archive collect children’s stories of Lockdown, and challenging youngsters to make Lego representations of Suffolk landmarks. The archives have also worked with schools to tell the story of Suffolk’s WWII Polish community, a story that resonates with today’s children of Polish origin in the county.

“Volunteer Makers has been so helpful in widening our appeal, it’s such a handy tool,” enthuses Rebecca.

“From an administrative side as well, it has made keeping track of volunteers easier. Tickbox has just added a rota function which allows us to note who is doing what, where – without a mound of paper!”