Updated 22/07/21

With many volunteers finding themselves in the clinically vulnerable group, reopening is likely to be a challenge for museums who rely heavily on volunteer support.

For many volunteers, there will be concerns about the face-to-face nature of their roles, physical contact and the anxieties they have around the virus. Mental health and wellbeing may become more of a priority for your organisation when considering Covid-secure changes. For shielded volunteers, health concerns and medical treatment will be a big worry and could lead to volunteers stepping away from their roles.

Providing a sense of belonging, community and purpose for volunteers is an important aspect of museum work. Volunteers are likely to need a degree of ‘retraining’, especially if they have been away for a long time. It may be prudent to arrange a day or two for people to come in and remind themselves of procedures (such as fire evacuation procedures and any additional hygiene requirements of their role, etc). This may need to be spread out over several days if social distancing is still in place. You may want to limit exposure to different groups of staff/volunteers, as well instituting a buddy system where people are only exposed to the same individuals.

With the introduction of Step 4, you may want to consult your volunteers on what they are comfortable with. For more information on this please see the section on Step 4 and What It Means For Your Museum.

There is also an opportunity for museums to grow their volunteer base.  Many people have got involved with volunteering in their local community during this crisis. They have been keen ‘to do their bit’ by helping the NHS or delivering food. As those opportunities reduce, now is a good time to promote volunteering at your museum, particularly if there is a way to offer flexible, short-term, community-focused projects. For example, what about a museum garden that needs a bit of tending to become a space for older visitors to enjoy, or a painting job on a picnic shelter?

As always, it should be a volunteer’s personal choice whether they wish to volunteer, including outside their home, and they should not be compelled to do so by their organisation or group.

Once people are no longer required to stay at home, it will still be important to volunteer from home where possible.

Shielding Volunteers

From 1st April 2021, clinically extremely vulnerable people will no longer be advised to shield. Like everyone else, people in this group should volunteer from home where possible. Shielding volunteers can also choose to volunteer outside their homes. However, if you or your volunteers are shielding it is advised to take extra steps to keep yourselves safe. This includes minimising:

  • The number of social interactions you and your volunteers have;
  • The time you and your volunteers spend in places where maintaining social distancing is difficult.

Museums and charities can also apply for ‘rapid lateral flow’ test kits, which will help you to undertake testing for staff and volunteers who cannot work from home. You can register directly on https://www.gov.uk/get-workplace-coronavirus-tests to order free coronavirus rapid lateral flow tests to carry out regular asymptomatic testing of staff and volunteers who cannot work from home.

Volunteer-involving organisations should also ensure their workplaces meet coronavirus safety standards.

The Government has also issued special advice for volunteers working during the Covid-19 pandemic: https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus-volunteering

GOV.UK guidance relating to volunteering is set out in four parts:

  • Coronavirus (COVID-19) volunteering’ is aimed at members of the public who are interested in, or are currently, volunteering ‘formally’ with an organisation. This guidance helps users find volunteering opportunities and understand how to stay safe while volunteering.;
  • Coronavirus: How to help safely’ is aimed at members of the public who are interested in, or are currently, volunteering ‘informally’ in their local community. This guidance helps users to understand how to volunteer safely, and how people can stay safe if a volunteer is helping them;
  • Enabling safe and effective volunteering during coronavirus (COVID-19)’ is aimed at volunteer-involving organisations and groups, and helps them to understand how to involve volunteers safely and effectively in their work;
  • The role of volunteers’ is aimed at volunteer-involving organisations and groups and provides a list of links to guidance on volunteering, including guidance on GOV.UK and from VCSE sector bodies and arms-length bodies.

 The full guidelines can be found here, whilst you can read a summary below:

If you need to carry out security or conservation checks as a volunteer, this is allowed. Further information can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/enabling-safe-and-effective-volunteering-during-coronavirus-covid-19

 Questions to ask yourself

  • How many volunteers are you realistically going to be working with (some volunteers may not wish to return, be part of the shielding group or have underlying health conditions or caring responsibilities)?
  • How will you communicate with your volunteers to understand their concerns around contact and potential exposure? How will you find out what would make them feel safer and limit their exposure?
  • How will you address additional mental health or wellbeing anxieties?
  • Will you require personal protective equipment (PPE) for your volunteers? For more information on PPE, have a look at our Hygiene fact sheet.
  • Can your volunteers assist in the manufacture of personal protective equipment as a remote task? These may offer some reassurance.
  • Will your volunteers need training on additional hygiene practices, and will they have responsibilities in that area?
  • How can your museum offer a sense of belonging, community and purpose to volunteers who are able to come in, and also to those who can’t?
  • Are there remote opportunities for volunteers who wish to remain involved but cannot physically be present?
  • Will your volunteers need to use public transport to access your site? Can the risks of this be mitigated?
  • Have you done a comprehensive risk assessment for returning volunteers to ensure they will be safe?
  • How can you tap into the increase in volunteers mobilised by the pandemic? Can you list your organisation on a website to let volunteers know they can support their communities through their local museums?
  • Is there an opportunity to recruit some new volunteers?
  • Can you support your volunteers with weekly phone catch ups where needed, or Zoom meetings if they can’t physically be on site? Volunteers could deliver short talks about the remote work they have completed.
  • Can you plan how to retain your volunteers who are shielding and won’t be able to return for a while?
  • If you are planning to reopen with timed ticketing, you could consider offering a formal set tour using a specific route formulated with input from your guides.
  • Have you considered the fact that some volunteers may have faced difficult times during the pandemic and may need additional support? Support for bereavement and mental health issues can be found here: https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/nhs-voluntary-charity-services/charity-and-voluntary-services/get-help-from-mental-health-helplines/
  • Have you considered how volunteers who have worked through the pandemic may interact with those who have been furloughed? Will you need to set aside time for additional training and upskilling, or support for those who may have volunteered or worked during and are now facing burnout?


“I think it’s really important in times of crisis, when people are doing something positive it does make you feel a little bit calmer and more in control.

It certainly does me.” 

Sali Hughes, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-51908023



Government guidance for people who work in or run offices, contact centres and similar indoor environments.

Volunteering resources

How to make a face mask (not medical grade)

Volunteering services online

Blog about why people volunteer, with links to Time Well Spent research

Risk Assessment template
Appendix 4

Places to advertise volunteering opportunities

Advice on face coverings

Face coverings and new rules


Events Industry Forum – working safely in the outdoor events industry
Appendix 17

Returning to Volunteering

Guidance on Shielding

Guidance for Volunteers

Helping Safely

Legal Perspective

Safe and effective volunteering guidance

DCMS guidance signposting

Guidance for office working

Government advice for volunteers

What to do if you have a case of Covid in your organisation – Covid-19 Action List

Appendix 27_Covid 19 Action List

‘We offer testing to our staff’ scheme


Health and Wellbeing in Museums Toolkit

Covid-19 testing guidance for employers/volunteer managers



Government Guidance Coronavirus: how to stay safe and help prevent the spread


Working safely during Covid-19


Guidance on working safely during Covid-19 for events and attractions


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