With many volunteers finding themselves in the community-shielding 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 visitor interactions, and social distancing in offices or stores. 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 longer than 12 weeks. 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.
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?
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?
- Can your volunteers assist in the manufacture of personal protective equipment as a remote task? These will not be medical grade, but 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?
- Have you considered the legal implications of reopening? Will you be able to guarantee that you have made reasonable and effective health and safety changes to protect your volunteers?
- 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 of 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.
“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.
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
Places to advertise volunteering opportunities