Housing some of the most valuable and irreplaceable artefacts in Britain, University of Cambridge Museums (UCM) is a heritage group like few others.
With eight widely different museums and a botanical garden, all operating in a semi-autonomous manner and tied to one of the world’s greatest universities, UCM has a history of working closely with local communities in innovative ways.
“Volunteer Makers gave our institutions a joined-up approach, while allowing each museum to set its own challenges and adapt things to its own needs – it isn’t a prescriptive ‘one size fits all’ approach,” explains Niki Hughes, UCM’s Opening Doors Project Co-ordinator.
Niki has championed the VM system at UCM and as familiarity grew with the concept, it is now used by most of the institutions to recruit volunteers and manage their tasks.
UCM now has 586 volunteers signed up, from all walks of life, and these helpers interact with its museums in a variety of ways.
“For some it’s completing a challenge that may only take an hour or so, for others it is helping with a specific task for a day, while others take up front-of-house duties on an ongoing basis,” Niki notes.
“From our point of view, Volunteer Makers has been a great boon in managing the administration of this. In the past, we might have had bits of paper flying about between museums whereas now its digital, its measurable and we can track precisely,” she adds.
The Covid-19 lockdown has meant UCM’s institutions have had to get inventive in its challenges but – as could be expected – it has risen to the challenge.
Volunteer tasks could be as diverse as recording nature sounds from their own gardens, to getting involved in the Museum Remix project – a way in which the public could get involved in reinterpreting UCM’s artefacts.
As the doors to the various collections begin to open up again, VM has helped recruit volunteers to work front-of-house roles, in outreach work and to run specialist tours.
“Volunteer Makers has made filling these roles so much easier and just as importantly it has allowed us to keep the public engaged with us while the lockdown kept doors closed,” Niki says.
“We wanted to keep the community engaged with and interested in UCM and Volunteer Makers has been an invaluable tool for doing this,” she concludes.