There’s so much we couldn’t have achieved if we didn’t have our team of volunteers. They’re part of the life and soul of Reading Museum. Some come at weekends to give Saturday lunchtime guided tours, or help at community events to get people excited about our new projects. Others prefer weekdays –weekly, fortnightly or once a month – such as our Tuesday Sewing Bee, who create our wonderful children’s dressing up clothes!
Reading Museum currently has 40 volunteers who help on a regular or occasional basis. Our volunteers are all ages and backgrounds, ranging from students and part-time workers through to semi-retired and retired people.
Half of our volunteers work on research and our collections, tirelessly preparing information for the online catalogues which many people then use for researching an object’s or area’s history. Our longest serving volunteer has just celebrated 15 years with us and still enjoys the challenge of getting our records organised and accurate, while also getting to know the different collections.
Not only are volunteers a vital link with the public, we regard volunteers as an extension of the museum, complementing staff skills – not replacing us! Matthew Williams, Reading Museum Manager said, “Involving volunteers means we can do the extras we would otherwise only dream of.” 
Their enormous contribution of time, over many years, has undoubtedly helped us share Reading’s rich history and fascinating collections with new audiences that we would otherwise not been able to reach.
Every new volunteer is given a thorough induction, which includes meeting new staff and training as required. These processes have been developed over many years and follow national practice. Since 2012 Reading Museum has had Investing in Volunteers (IiV) accreditation and we applied successfully for this for a second time in 2015. This accreditation endorses the work we have done so far to support and develop our volunteering programme. We recently shared our experience of applying for IiV as a case study for other arts and heritage sectors considering this route.
The IiV accreditation also shows we value our volunteers and we include them as much as possible. They give us fresh, new perspectives. Recently two volunteers joined gallery and front of house staff at an evaluations workshop and it was great to hear their creative ideas and input as museum visitors, volunteers and members of the public! “As staff we might be pigeon-holed in our thinking, volunteers bring a different skill set and perspective”. 
Our volunteers are also an important group to get feedback from. They were invited to the private viewing of the current Reading Abbey: Then & Now exhibition and were encouraged to give their views on the proposed new interpretation board for the Reading Abbey Revealed project . Others have also been involved in last year’s consultations about changes within the Town Hall and Reading Museum buildings. They like to keep us on our toes!
With the Reading Abbey Revealed project now up and running, there will be many more volunteering roles emerging over the coming months as we work towards the re-opening of the Abbey Ruins and Abbey Gateway next summer. We are also looking at ways to extend our programme to the wider community. To find out more about joining our team of volunteers, visit our Getting Involved webpage.
1. INVESTING IN VOLUNTEERS FINAL REPORT 2015 (link)