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Petersfield Museum participation in GEM Conference 'People Power: Realising the potential of volunteers, communities and partners'

Back in 2013, Amanda Harwood of Peterfield Museum was awarded a Training Bursary to take part in Group for Education in Museums (GEM) annual conference ‘People Power: Realising the potential of volunteers, communities and partners.’ Find out how this has delivered lasting benefits to the museum 18 months on, with better utilisation of volunteer support and increased partnership working with local schools and community groups.

Museum name

Petersfield Museum

Museum contact

Amanda Harwood, Education and Outreach Officer

Title of Project

Training Bursary: GEM Conference 'People Power: Realising the potential of volunteers, communities and partners’

Project aims

The Training Bursary Scheme enabled people working in museums in the Hampshire Solent area to attend training events across the United Kingdom. Amanda described her aims in applying for the Bursary:

'As a small, independent museum we rely heavily on volunteers to engage with the local community. We value our volunteers greatly and I wanted to learn more about how best to utilise them and provide them with opportunities to further develop their skills. At that time our volunteers helped us with stewarding, cataloguing  and special projects. For example we had a small team of volunteers helping on a costume project, but I believed that there were great opportunities to involve volunteers more with the education and outreach programme, supporting me and the other staff, allowing us to further develop what we offer.'

'Moreover, we were then working on a number of projects with partners from across Hampshire, such as a 2014 outdoor dance project to commemorate the First World War, working with ‘Dance Up’ including local schools and community groups. We were working with the Buriton Chalk pits on a series of resources for primary and secondary schools looking at how the chalk pits affected land use, industry and the local people. Despite these great projects I felt that there was more opportunity to develop stronger links to the local community through partnerships, and I believed this conference would give me ideas, teach me new skills that allow me to make new contacts and turn them into long-term partnerships that would help to develop the profile of Petersfield Museum. I anticipated that attending the conference would develop my skills, contacts and understanding about ways that we can do this effectively.'

What was the impact of the project?

Reflecting on the impact 18 months on as part of long-term Training Bursary evaluation, Amanda says:

'Over the last year, I have worked on a number of projects with our volunteers and have actively sought to involve and engage them with the work I do. Being such a small local museum, their input and support is vital to the education programme. I feel that the museum now utilises the volunteers much better than before and the staff benefit greatly from this extra support. We have also increased the amount of partnership working we do with local schools and community groups.

'The development of a 'memory' box to be used in local care homes and support groups that was initated and devised entirely by a team of volunteers. They researched and sourced all materials and told me that they felt as thought they had contributed to the museum and local community by undertaking such a useful project. They appreciated that they led the project and staff were there for support, rather than leading, and it gave them chance to share their knowledge and ideas.'

What went well and what didn’t go well?

The Bursary was effective in supporting Amanda to develop her skills and confidence to involve volunteers in new ways and develop new community partnerships. Amanda says: 'I would say the biggest financial benefit is that the museum staff have an extra support system that can be utilised when needed. Our volunteers help with public programming as well as research and helping with the collections and exhibitions.'

However, in a small museum with limited staff resources, there have been limitations on the extent to which the benefits can be realised. Amanda and her colleagues are committed to providing a good volunteering experience and this takes staff time to do well. Partnership building is also time-intensive. She says:

'Unfortunately, the museum staff do not always have enough time to work with the volunteers on projects. And although our partnership working is improving, I feel we still struggle to work on large scale projects with partners due to limited resources we have, staff mainly.'

Plans for the future

Amanda rated her Training Bursary experience as excellent and says that she is very likely to submit an application to the successor Development Grants scheme to support future education and outreach work at Petersfield Museum.