Volunteers play an important role in communities as they use their skills and expertise for the benefit of others.
Their unpaid contributions make a real difference, and many community-based projects or voluntary sector organisations cannot operate without them.
Ripon Museum Trust are working to find new and effective ways to help people with support needs to access volunteering at the Ripon based museums. Their 'Volunteering for the Soul Project' has been going for a couple of years now and the testimonies from the people being supported are truly inspirational. Volunteers with support needs due to mental health diagnosis/recovery, low confidence and learning difficulties are given close support on real tasks around the museum and in the Victorian Garden. As well as Jess, who is the Project Co-ordinator, Tom is one of the people funded by COINS Foundation, to provide bespoke support to volunteers. Here are some of their stories; as they find new confidence, new opportunities in life for learning and employment and, of course, new friends!
Tom, Volunteer Assistant
“I am really enjoying my time at the museum so far. Throughout the weeks I have grown into my role as a Volunteer Assistant through working and getting to know both the garden team and all the office team along with all the amazing volunteers. In the garden I have been helping volunteers plant seeds and plants, learn about gardening tools and litter picking both on and by the side of the site."
Jennifer, Young Volunteer
Jennifer joined us looking to build her transferable skills as she approaches the end of her time in further education. As a young person with additional needs and learning difficulties, she was unsure of her next steps into the world of work and/or higher education. After a few months of volunteering as part of our front of house visitor welcome team, growing in confidence, Jennifer has used her experience with us so far to secure apart-time weekend job. This is a fantastic step in her future journey.
After a period of complex mental health challenges, Mark joined our friendly maintenance team to learn some new skills and explore his interests, as part of his journey back into work following a lengthy break from the workplace. After five months volunteering with us, Mark has used his new found maintenance skills to secure a job in hardware retail, quickly being promoted to his current role as a shift supervisor.
People volunteer for a number of reasons, such as to gain new skills for future employment or to find a fulfilling role in retirement. There is growing evidence of the importance of volunteering for our mental well being, however, people with low mental wellbeing or a diagnosed mental health problem often find it difficult to engage with formal volunteering opportunities. Supported volunteering provides a way for people who require additional support to access volunteering opportunities.
A unique collaboration between the International Centre for Mental Health Social Research (ICMHSR) at the University of York and Ripon Museum Trust is collecting data for an evaluation of supported volunteering at the museums. This project, led by Professor Martin Webber from ICMHSR at the University of York, aims to:
· Explore how and why supported volunteering works and develop a manual to share this with others.
· Explore outcomes for people receiving supported volunteering and the organisation providing it.
· Assess costs and potential economic consequences of supported volunteering.
The research will be conducted by Dr Beth Casey from ICMHSR who will spend time at the museums interviewing volunteers and staff about their experience of the support that is provided to volunteers. She’ll observe the support being provided and volunteers will have an opportunity to keep an audio or written diary about their experiences. The data will then be explored to further understand; why supported volunteering works, for whom it works best, and the organisational context required for the optimal outcome. Following this, a manual for supported volunteering will be developed to enable others to benefit from the learnings and, the findings will also be shared at conferences, in academic papers and through social media. The research will play an important role in informing the development of the RMT Strategic Plan; a National Lottery Heritage Fund redevelopment scheme for Ripon Museums, as well as the on-going Ripon Museum Trust programme funded by Arts Council England.