Virtual Volunteering

Panel Session with Q&A

Friday 8 April 3.00-4:15pm

Booking is no longer possible for this event

Search for the Stars volunteers,
Museum of East Anglian Life

For most of us, our work would not be possible without brilliant volunteers. They tend to plants and plots, muck out stables, provide hands-on opportunities with collections, welcome visitors, research and catalogue collections, and support and sustain almost every aspect of our work. From March 2020, many of us were forced to find new digital ways to share our collections and activity. But where did this leave our amazing volunteers? What part could they play in this new online world?

In this session we share exciting and successful collections-centred projects that have virtual volunteering at their heart. Digging deep discussions focus on two case studies; one that began pre-pandemic and another that emerged after the first lockdown. Perhaps you are keen to try something similar, or want to reach beyond your local volunteer base? How might you overcome the barriers that such technologies can pose? What are the simplest, most affordable solutions? Might there be ways that rural museums can help and support each other? Join us to find out if the future of virtual volunteering at your museum is only one click away.

This session is hosted by Dr Ollie Douglas, Curator at The Museum of English Rural Life, University of Reading.

Sheila Fisher manages the volunteering programmes for a pool of 200 volunteers across Reading Museum and The Museum of English Rural Life. In the past two years, she co-developed seven new digital volunteering roles for 54 volunteers who donated over 1,300 hours. The roles include research into art works and artists; detective work about buildings and supporting the creation of school resources in a conservation area; summarising memoirs; transcribing letters; and research into object collections for digital interpretation and for conversion to Wikipedia articles. @SheilaHenFisher

Lisa Harris is Collections and Interpretation Manager at the Museum of East Anglian Life, soon to be the Food Museum in Stowmarket, Suffolk. She joined the museum in 2001 and has responsibility for c.40,000 objects, ranging from homewares to working steam traction engines. She is currently leading the restoration of Alton Watermill to enable the story of ’seed to sandwich’ to be demonstrated (and tasted!) at the museum. Lisa studied History of Art at Stoke on Trent, and Museum Studies at Leicester. She has also worked at Ipswich Museums Service and Gainsborough’s House. @LisaMuseum

Tim Jerrome is an archivist and researcher who has been working on a project named ‘Building Connections’. This project worked to create online content for the MERL website, particularly relating to underrepresented communities, and also focused on digital interpretation of The MERL’s galleries. This digital interpretation was undertaken with the help of a large team of remote volunteers.

Kate Knowlden is Curator at the Museum of East Anglian Life. She joined the museum in 2019 taking on the Search for the Stars digitisation project, managing 500+ volunteers to create an online catalogue of the museum’s 40,000 objects. She helps with the programme of temporary exhibitions as well as working in partnership with the University of Leeds and their Dialect and Heritage project to take the collection on the road to rural East Anglia in 2022. Kate studied Photography at the University of Brighton and then a Masters in Curation at Norwich University of the Arts. @KateFKnowlden

Nicola Minney has spent the last 18 months working with The MERL collections, as part of the ‘Building Connections’ Project. Throughout the project she has produced new interpretation on themes of migration, decolonisation, and LGBTQ+ stories, including ‘Queer Constellations’ and a popular blog series called ‘Changing Perspectives’.

This project was supported by a large team of volunteers who participated in the MERL’s first ever digital volunteering programme, to great effect. @NM269

Dr Ollie Douglas has worked at The Museum of English Rural Life, University of Reading, for over a decade where his role focusses on curation, interpretation, management, research access, and public engagement. During this time, he has both led and participated in numerous projects that have sought to reimagine rural heritage and museums in a range of creative ways. He sits on the Committee of the RMN and the Folklore Society. He is a previous President of the ICOM-affiliated International Association of Agricultural Museums. @OllieDouglas