I was looking forward to the Volunteers Co-ordinators Forum session on museums as contributors to wellbeing for volunteers at Gainsboroughs House in the first week of May. I have previously enjoyed SHARE events as an education volunteer, but in my new role as a Wellbeing Co-ordinator at the Higgins, Bedford, my focus is to expand our wellbeing programme whilst developing and maintaining strong relationships with our volunteers.
Miranda Stearn, Head of Learning at the Fitzwilliam started with a succinct discussion around the meaning of wellbeing and how it works with targeted museum audiences. The research undertaken by bodies from parliamentary groups, the HLF, the Arts Council, Wellcome and the National Alliance for Museums, Health & Wellbeing highlighted the commitment to partnership working with experts in the field of social care in this relatively new area. On a local scale, the importance of museums linking with GP practices to offer ‘social prescribing’ with wellbeing activities in a non-clinical environment will be invaluable.
Then, a speaker from outside the museum sector, giving us a refreshing and different perspective; Craig Weeks from Macmillan Cancer Support. Their carefully considered structure of volunteer management practice from recruitment, induction, support and supervision, including toolkits for managers, demonstrated how dedicated the organisation is to looking after the wellbeing of their 20,000 + volunteers. Effective support to people helping others in such a sensitive area is vital. I was interested to hear that not all volunteers like being called volunteers! People ‘giving their time’ can be a more appropriate description. Despite admitting that they hadn’t got everything right, the principles of having a happy, relaxed, confident, skilled, secure and safe volunteer workforce are embedded in Macmillan’s ethos.
Jenna Ingamells, Museum Project Officer for Suffolk, discussed the positive health and wellbeing benefits of museum engagement in four Suffolk museums.
‘Creative Heritage & Art in Mind’ workshops enabled people to improve their mental wellbeing through creating work inspired by what was around them. The emphasis on a local narrative with people being connected to the community through art and objects is a great strength. ‘The Men’s Shed’ at Leiston was particularly inspiring. Mainly retired men have used their skills to put back together an engine from the museum collection and in the process enjoyed the company of others and reduced feelings of social isolation. The ‘Lowestoft Rising’ project highlighted the mutual benefits of working in partnerships. Matching the needs of the Job Centre and the museum was interesting, where job seekers are able to gain confidence and life skills by experiencing a taster in all aspects of museum work learning alongside existing volunteers.
David Blackburn concluded the day with an interactive session on what forum members wanted as topics and themes for future sessions and who might ‘own’ these (with support from the steering group with venues and speakers). Some of the ideas could be linked to create a full day of discussions and will be circulated to the group. The final evaluation of the day; ‘did well’, ‘learned’, ‘do better’ and ‘still puzzled’ was a quick and effective evaluation tool and something I can see myself using in the future.
Thanks to Niki Hughes for organising the day and staff at Gainsboroughs House for being such excellent hosts. Engaging with old and new colleagues is always time well spent. However, trying to resist tasting all of the wonderful cakes was the real challenge of the day!
Vicki Blair, Wellbeing Co-ordinator, The Higgins, Bedford