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Social inclusion: case study on volunteering at the St Fagans roundhouses

Date: 
Saturday, 1 March, 2014 to Tuesday, 31 March, 2015
Responsible: 
Steve Burrow
Number of Participants / Visitors / Audience: 
150 (numbers tbc)

As part of our work to build new Iron Age roundhouses at St Fagans National History Museum, we undertook a project to broaden the range of volunteers who came to work at our museum. Traditionally, our volunteer base is: white, female, 18-24-year-old students or 55+ retirees. This demographic doesn’t reflect society at large and we wanted to change this in order to benefit a greater spectrum of people.

Fortunately, our work on the roundhouses coincided with our involvement with another project, Our Museum, which encouraged us to enter into a partnership with a range of community organisations who already worked with the audiences we wanted to reach, for example:

The Wallich (a homeless support organisation)
DrugAid (helping people tackle drug and alcohol problems)
Diverse Cymru (an innovative equalities organisation)
Job CentrePlus (serving the unemployed)
Wales Council for Voluntary Action

A lot of the work on our roundhouses involved non-specialist skills, for example in preparing timbers and building clay walls, making it ideal as a testbed for a new approach to volunteering.
We began preparations for recruitment in 2013 but delays to the building work on the roundhouses meant that recruitment didn’t commence until spring 2014, at which time Taster Days were organised. Groups were encouraged to come to these days with staff from their community organisation in order to see whether volunteering with the museum was for them.

Our group of volunteers worked one day a week, on 5 day a week rota to help build Bryn Eryr (a total of 60 days). They built clom walls using traditional skills and clay from the original area, as well as debark wood for the roof and walls. Later in the project, volunteers also helped with the thatching of the smaller of the two roundhouses. For some, this involved preparing straw at ground level. Others were trained to work at heights, and contributed to the thatching process itself. Our volunteers have truly contributed in building Bryn Eryr from the bottom up.

Crucial to the success of the project was compliance with Health and Safety and Building Regulations in order to ensure that all work was undertaken safely. This involved a careful review at each stage of the project to ensure that the working environment had been made safe and that all volunteers were aware of the potential hazards on site. In addition, volunteers were only allowed to carry out tasks which they were trained for.

Interim figures showing the new demographic for volunteers at St Fagans that resulted from this work are presented in the charts below. As these figures clearly show, the project successfully diversified the range of volunteers who came to work with us.

Perhaps the greatest tribute to the success of this project are the quotes from those who participated.

“My volunteer said he hadn't expected it to be so engaging. He expected just to do some manual labour and not much else. He said he feels excited at the prospect of being involved in the re-build of the Celtic Village. He smiled and said how he hopes that one day, his children and their children will visit Bryn Eryr and feel proud that their father/grandfather had been part of something so amazing.”

“St Fagans wasn't somewhere they [the volunteers] would have expected to be welcomed nor to become involved in. However, those individuals who've volunteered so far have absolutely loved the experience &, most importantly, have been made to feel welcome & part of the project.”

“I spoke with [his] social worker yesterday and he shared with me that [he]… feels that the volunteering he’s doing at St Fagans is the most important thing he’s ever done: working with like-minded people, actually creating something, and using ancient methods to create things anew. He also said he wishes he’d done this when he was younger so that he could have spent more of his life doing it…!”

Images

Gender balance of volunteers during this...
Age range of volunteers during this project.
Employment status of volunteers during this...
Ethnicity of volunteers during this project.