The LHF hosted its first in-person conference in three years on Thursday 3 November, at The Collection in Lincoln. The thirty delegates represented heritage sites, heritage charities and learned historical societies, as well as including individuals who have contributed substantially to the region’s heritage over many years.
The first session was a panel discussion on the value of volunteers in the heritage sector, chaired by Julia Knight. Mark Bamford, of Sleaford Museum and himself a volunteer, praised the passion and dedication of volunteers and identified some of the post-Covid challenges of recruiting and retaining volunteers. Sleaford Museum had implemented many measures to enhance the experience of volunteering, not least sociability and friendship. As many volunteers were retirees, it was also important to match them to skills that they had acquired in their careers, such as research. The Museum was active in outreach work, such as their ‘Museum on the Road’ scheme and attending local farmers’ markets, which helped to gain more volunteer support.
Marie Lawson, a senior lecturer and researcher at the University of Lincoln, presented some of the results of her research into volunteers’ perspectives and stressed how important it was that their voices were heard, as often they were aware of how important they were in running heritage sites but were rarely consulted. Marie also discussed volunteer concerns about their roles in the current cost-of-living crisis: with talk of museums offering warm spaces, how would their roles be affected? She pointed to the need for a duty of care on the part of museum professionals and managers regarding these changing circumstances.
Sarah Grundy, from the Lincolnshire County Council, spoke about supporting the voluntary sector and stressed how much volunteers contributed to the heritage of the county and the huge amount of knowledge and expertise they collectively possessed. She also noted the wide range of roles they played – from participating in archaeological fieldwork to hosting events to educational outreach to reenactment: it was these activities that contributes to the vibrancy of the sector. She felt that volunteering was not as valued at a national strategic level as it should be.
The panellists’ contributions were followed by a lively and wide-ranging discussion among delegates. This is just a taste of the comments and contributions:
- It is every employee’s responsibility in a heritage organisation to exercise a duty of care towards volunteers, not just the volunteer manager’s
- Young people often struggle to get volunteer roles and need to feel more valued as heritage volunteers
- Some heritage organisations don’t seem to have the time to manage volunteers properly
Clearly this is a topic of immense importance and the LHF has an important role to play in advocating for volunteers in our sector.
For the next session, Anita Hollinshead of Museums Development East Midlands introduced the Museums Association Decolonising Toolkit. She took us through the ten principles, as set out by the Museums Association, to:
- Challenge neutrality
- Acknowledge power and privilege
- Build relationships
- Value all forms of knowledge and expertise equally
- Be brave
- Be accountable
- Do the work
- Take care
- Be creative
- Aim for justice
Anita then organised an activity, for us all to think about what actions we could undertake, or were undertaking, at our sites. This led to further very productive discussion.
Just before lunch, Julia Knight presented Catherine Wilson OBE with a Lifetime Achievement Award for her services to the region’s heritage sector. Catherine has long been a strong supporter of the Forum and everyone present agreed that the Award was richly deserved.
After lunch, delegates chose either a guided tour of the Greyfriars, or a behind-the-scenes tour of The Collection. The final session of the conference saw the launch of our new website and a discussion about what role/s we as a Forum ought to be playing. Again there was great and lively discussion. Among suggestions offered were:
- Use the new website to publicise member events
- Create a hub for volunteering opportunities on the website
- Strengthen networking opportunities for member organisations and individuals
- Offer more information on heritage services – e.g. guided tours of Lincoln Conservation
With thanks to all the delegates for their ideas and great company, and to the County Council for offering us The Collection for our conference.