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Volunteering Values, community in a cultural setting

This is a blog by Shanna Lennon, who until recently was Common Cause Foundation Coordinator at Manchester Museum.

Volunteers are the beating heart of many organisations lucky enough to have them, and that’s no different at Manchester Museum.

Research conducted by Common Cause, tells us that we underestimate how widespread values like compassion, kindness and helpfulness are – and this inadvertently holds us all back from collectively addressing big social and environmental issues like inequality and climate change.

In partnership, Common Cause and Manchester Museum have used this insight to think more deeply about the Museum volunteers – all 200 of them. These are people who give their time day in and day out to help bring the Museum’s collection to life for so many different people – inside and outside of the Museum’s walls.

As part of Manchester Museum’s journey to become a Museum for Life – a civic organisation that contributes to a healthier, happier, fairer and more sustainable world – the Museum us looking for ways to promote their shared values and become a place where people can engage with what matters most. Raising the profile of the motivations that inspire people to volunteer, how volunteering makes them feel and the experiences they value, seemed a perfect place to start.

Manchester Museum began by holding the first ‘Volunteer Day’ during Volunteer Week 2017. This was a chance to showcase the large numbers of volunteers that are part of the Museum community and encourage them to share with visitors what motivated them to volunteer.

Volunteers were encouraged to tell their stories in creative ways, using collage to communicate their stories, creating a Zine to be featured in the Museums Study area with copies available for visitors and other volunteers. What volunteers shared was so poignant and resonant with the Museum’s vision of a Museum for Life that they worked with volunteers to produce posters, which are part the wider ‘Share the Love’ campaign that is aiming to use the space in the Museum to give voice to the shared values of the people of Manchester .

Now these posters part of the fabric of the Museum. This focus on shared values and promoting these is now also a firm part of the induction for all volunteers, where they are invited join the Museum community in being advocates for these values and to share with visitors how much they enjoy interacting with them and what they find rewarding about volunteering – from feedback, they definitely seem up for it!

Manchester Museum’s large community of volunteers, motivated by these ‘intrinsic’ values of care, compassion and curiosity, helps show visitors that these values are more widespread than they may believe, that they are valued by society and that the people we all interact with are likely to share the same values as ourselves. Redressing this misperception, as the research shows, is likely to contribute to the aim of Museum for Life, contributing to a healthier, happier, fairer and more sustainable future for us all.

As part of the #WeStandTogether campaign Manchester Evening News highlighted the  implications for this research and the parallel project at Manchester Museum at a wider city and societal level. As Andy Burnham, Greater Manchester Mayor, says “…while it’s clear that these are [caring] values we all share, our perceptions of each other are very different. We need to explore ways to bridge that gap, challenge these perceptions and believe in each other, so together we can build an even greater society.”

Common Cause Foundation and Manchester Museum are proud to be working in ways that are bridging the gap.
– What projects, partnerships and practices are you involved in that help us believe in each other, believe in something better?

Tell us what you’re doing – or if you are interested to engage more in work with us.
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Emily HowgateVolunteering Values, community in a cultural setting

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