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Case Studies

National Trust - Castleward

Kathryn Pollock volunteered at Castle Ward throughout 2007 and 2008 in the Tack Room, situated within the Stable Yard. Using a hundred year old image of a horse between the shafts, she developed a task which invited children to work out how the various parts of tack hanging on the original pegs fit together to make up a harness. Kathryn also helped to interpret the lives of the working horses on the Castle Ward estate, using the collection of harnesses to recall the farm work they undertook, and relating the lives of known Castle Ward horses of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Kathryn's project portrayed farm practices of the past, and helped to gather stories from older people visiting the site. Her interpretation of the Tack Room also helped the Trust to raise awareness of ploughing championships still being held, and to provoke discussion about horse welfare today. Now that Kathryn has moved on to pastures new, House Manager Jennifer Richardson is hoping someone else will pick up the reins. "A good start has been made on this project and I would love another volunteer to complete the interpretation at the Tack Room", she says. Jennifer believes that the contribution of volunteers to Castle Ward is well worth the supervision time their projects require, and regularly recruits volunteers to help look after the collections and deliver education sessions. The National Trust has a Volunteer Register which helps to match volunteers to the tasks they enjoy, and offers them access to a wide range of opportunities.

National Museums Northern Ireland

National Museums Northern Ireland (NMNI) operates a Volunteer Steering Group responsible for developing volunteering throughout the organisation. As such, the Steering Group have implemented a Volunteer Policy, Strategy and framework for the management and development of volunteering across the organisation. Currently, NMNI's Live and Learn project, an outreach programme for older adults that is funded by Big lottery, leads the way in developing volunteer roles within the organisation. To date roles developed by the Live and Learn project have included; Live and Learn Workshop Volunteer roles, Conservation Volunteers, Garden Volunteers, Vintage Bus Volunteer Drivers, a Volunteer Christmas Choir and a partnership project with the Leonard Cheshire Society, which offer garden volunteering opportunities at the Ulster American Folk Park, Omagh, for individuals with acquired brain injury. NMNI are currently in the stages of developing a web page to promote all volunteering opportunities and information on the organisation's main website and will be launching a number of volunteer roles at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, Cultra, in 2013.

National Trust - Collections

At the National Trust in Northern Ireland, 15 volunteers have been crucial to helping to implement the new Collections Management System. Recruited, trained and managed by former Assistant Curator Alison Mitchelson, the volunteers included retired people, students studying for their MA in Museum and Heritage Studies at the University of Ulster, and recent graduates seeking work experience. The volunteers greatly enjoyed getting close-up, hands-on access to the historic objects in the Trust's care, which included fine porcelain and works of art at Castle Coole and Mount Stewart, spades at Patterson's Spade Mill, and a large collection of doileys at Ardress House. They shared in the excitement of revealing once more the costumes at The Argory, a collection last opened in the 1970s, which they helped to unpack, catalogue and survey. They carried out inventory marking, and re-packed, stored and documented objects to museum-approved standards. Some volunteers also carried out digital photography of the collections with the help of professional photographers. The volunteers added enormously to the capacity of the project, as they could devote the time to enhance and verify the accuracy of database entries, freeing up staff for other work. The collections database will be searchable online later in 2011.

Royal Irish Fusiliers Regimental Museum

Forty volunteers at the Royal Irish Fusiliers Museum help with all aspects of its work - they research and interpret the collections, deliver education sessions, welcome visitors at the front desk, act as tour guides, and even help to manage the Museum as members on its Board. In one current project, volunteers are collating and researching the names of men and women from the Armagh City and District Council area who were killed in the first and second World Wars. To date, they have found 1503 men and women who died, but whose names are not commemorated. The Museum has suggested that the current War Memorial on the Mall be adapted to include their names, or that a new Memorial be developed. Volunteers have developed a searchable website with a database of the names, and will also produce a Roll of Honour with information on every individual who was killed. The project was nominated for Armagh City and District Councils Mayor's Award for voluntary service to the community in the heritage sector. Amanda Moreno, Head of Collections, says "There is considerable interest and support within local communities in this project as well as in the Museum overall. This passion is reflected by our volunteers and without them, we simply could not remain open. In return, we believe, the volunteers have an increased sense of community involvement, and their personal confidence improves."

Lauren Dawson at Larne Museum

Lauren Dawson is a Volunteer at Larne Museum. She has been responsible for re-organising the museum's information files and index system, and transcribed the contents of one of the museum's artefacts - the Larne District Folklore Society Book. During the Museum's highly popular exhibition The Ballad of Big Al, which has accompanied the BBC Walking With Dinosaurs show, Lauren sold entry tickets, dealt with visitors, helped to prepare children's activity packs, and was generally on hand to help out. Lauren joined the museum for social reasons, as well as wishing to pursue her interests and build her career. "I believe museums can benefit from volunteers who are interested in the museum sector as museums are often under-staffed and over-worked. Volunteers can simply act as an extra pair of hands, carrying out small, but significant, jobs that simply make the general everyday tasks run a bit smoother. "Volunteers can also bring 'freshness' to the museum, suggesting new ideas and other perspectives. Visitors also benefit from the work of volunteers. Museum staff may be busy with other enquiries or tasks, so a volunteer can help people when they are visiting exhibitions, or simply provide information on other events and activities. "I hope to keep on volunteering when I can at opening night exhibitions, evening events, or during Saturdays at the museum. "I enjoy my volunteer work at Larne Museum and I am very appreciative of the museum staff for taking me on board with them. I have learnt a lot about general museum work and education in museums and have found the staff to be very welcoming and accommodating. "I feel that volunteering is excellent for people like me who wish to develop a career in the museum sector as it provides such valuable experience. I do believe it was my experience with Larne Museum, along with my Masters in Heritage and Museum Studies, which helped me gain a part-time summer job as an Interpretative Guide at Pogue's Entry Historical Cottage and I am able to draw from my experiences at Larne Museum and apply them in my current job to provide an excellent visitor experience. "Museum manager Jenny Caldwell says "Lauren has proved a huge asset to the team and has helped us to do so much more. We would be sorry to lose her!"

The Railway Preservation Society of Ireland at Whitehead Excursion Station

Johnny Glendinning, Curator and volunteer at the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland says that the organisation "could not keep going without the help of volunteers". He and other voluntary members supervise over 50 volunteers, who help to maintain buildings, provide visitor services, care for and document the collection of steam and other locomotives, carriages and many railway objects, act as tour guides, and maintain the website. Many of the volunteers, who tend to stay long-term, start with an interest in railways, and are often recruited through personal contacts and word of mouth, but may also get in touch through the website or targeted mailing list. Whilst the volunteers have the satisfaction of being involved and developing their hobby, they also provide fun and enjoyment for people throughout Northern Ireland who visit Whitehead Excursion Station and travel on the many steam hauled trains across Ireland that are operated by the Society.