Updated 12/04/21

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 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.

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 legally required to stay at home, it will still be important to volunteer from home where possible. Here are some things to consider as things begin to open up again:

  • People can meet in groups of any size, indoors or outdoors, while volunteering;
  • Volunteering which cannot be done from home can continue in closed businesses or venues whilst they remain closed to the public;
  • Businesses/venues, community centres and libraries which are otherwise required to close or restrict their activities are permitted to open and be used, including by volunteers, for a number of specific purposes only;
  • Accommodation such as hotels, B&Bs and holiday lets, which are otherwise ordered to close, are permitted to open for people who need to stay for volunteering purposes;
  • As ever, volunteers need to follow social distancing guidance while volunteering outside their homes, or COVID-secure guidance if in a workplace. While travelling to volunteer or while volunteering, you and your volunteers will also need to follow safer travel guidance and make allowances for changes brought about by Covid-19.

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 must 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

COVID-19 critical worker status

A security operative is considered a ‘critical worker’ if they are deployed in roles essential to supporting law and order, or which have the potential to limit any further likely pressures on the Police or national emergency services – this could include the guarding of empty or closed commercial property judged at risk, closed retail sites or sensitive office premises, or the monitoring of similar through CCTV or other remote means, and the provision of alarm response centres including mobile units.

The Government has created a letter (https://heartoflondonbid.london/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Employee-requirement-to-travel-to-work_print-with-company-letterhead_final.pdf) for museums to help with volunteers who need to come on site to perform security checks. Museums are advised to download the letter and customise with their letterhead and details and print off for their volunteers to show to the police if necessary.

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

Please note there are new face covering rules:

o          Customers in private hire vehicles and taxis must wear face coverings (from 23 September).

o          Customers in hospitality venues must wear face coverings, except when seated at a table to eat or drink. Staff in hospitality and retail will now also be required to wear face coverings (from 24 September).

o          People who are already exempt from the existing face covering obligations, such as because of an underlying health condition, will continue to be exempt from these new obligations.

o          Guidance stating that face coverings and visors should be worn in close contact services will now become law. (from 24 September)

o          Staff working on public transport and taxi drivers will continue to be advised to wear face coverings.

 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 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.

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

September 2020 Changes from Government

Alert Levels

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

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