Every day, hundreds of people up and down the country help us to tell the story of England. Our volunteers plant bulbs in formal gardens, run craft workshops for families, answer questions from curious visitors, help research the history of our sites – and much more besides.
With 2017 just around the corner, is volunteering on your New Year’s resolution list? 99% of our volunteers said they would recommend volunteering for English Heritage in a recent survey.
Here’s seven fantastic reasons why you should give it a go.
1. You’ll meet new people
People come from all over the world to visit our sites. Acting as the first point of contact for visitors, volunteers are the welcoming and friendly faces our visitors are greeted with, equipped with interesting facts, stories and information. You’ll enhance their experience and help them explore our fabulous heritage sites.
Annie Lawton volunteers at Wrest Park:
“From day one I was hooked – I love meeting new people and no two days are ever the same. Coach parties, school trips, a quiet drizzly day when just our ‘regulars’ turn up or all the excitement of hundreds of people turning up when ‘Flog It’ was filmed at Wrest.
“The morning briefing tells you what’s ahead but it’s the people who turn up and the stories you go home with that make it interesting.”
2. You’ll be part of a friendly team
John Baker became a volunteer at Stonehenge after seeing an advertisement in his local paper. He didn’t know what to expect on his first day in the role, but was immediately reassured:
“I was greeted with a warm and friendly welcome, accompanied by a plentiful supply of tea and biscuits.
“The added bonus was being able to meet and make friends with a group of people, of all ages and backgrounds, who like me, share a passion for archaeology.”
In fact, 75% of our volunteers said their roles had given them increased access to new friends and networks.
3. It’s a chance to learn new skills
With roles in departments as diverse as conservation, archaeology and gardens, there’s plenty of opportunities to develop your expertise.
Graham Fell has been a maintenance volunteer at Stott Park Bobbin Mill for four years:
“The variety of work we volunteers have done includes cleaning machines, grinding tools, re-flooring a boat shed, and lots more. You get to know how the machinery works and it allows you to imagine what it must have been like some 150 years before.”
4. You can gain valuable work-related experience
Teamwork, leadership, problem-solving, people skills – all things that employers love to see on a CV. Volunteering can help you build this experience – and (as mentioned in the last point) gain new, practical skills too. Especially if you’re interested in working in the heritage sector.
For example, our volunteers in the Curatorial and Conservation team at Dover Castle perform a wide range of roles including sewing in the Great Tower, cataloguing objects, transcribing oral histories to add to the archive, and cleaning of historic artefacts.
Some of our volunteers have gone on to have successful careers in the heritage sector. In fact, all of the collections staff based at Dover Castle began their careers as volunteers. Another example of a former volunteer who has joined the English Heritage staff is Rose Arkle in the collections archive store at Wrest Park. You can read more about how she got into working in the archive here.
5. You’ll receive training and support
Whatever role you choose and whatever your background, we will ensure that you receive the training and ongoing support you need to feel confident in your new volunteer role.
Oonagh Egerton found herself with some free time after taking redundancy and decided she wanted to do something completely different. She was delighted to be accepted as a volunteer at the new Stonehenge visitor centre:
“I have been lucky to have some interesting training including a fabulous archaeologist-led tour within the Stones very early one cold December morning, as well as a visit to Woodhenge and Durrington Walls.
“We also had a detailed tour of the gallery at Stonehenge by the Senior Historian which was fascinating.”
6. It’s a chance to really indulge your passion
If you love being in the great outdoors, our garden team help make their mark on history with their spectacular seasonal displays. Volunteers assist with the planting, presentation and maintenance including sowing, weeding, irrigation, pruning, path sweeping and grass edging.
In return, you can develop an understanding of the history of the garden and the significance of the plants and planting schemes that you can share with visitors whilst you work. As well as taking home a wealth of skills, tips and tricks to use in your own garden!
Audley End House and Gardens has had volunteers on site, mostly in the garden, for approximately 20 years. One of them, Aeron Taylor has been volunteering for just over five years:
“In my time at Audley End I’ve done everything from planting to dead heading and weeding to mending wheelbarrows. I also enjoy sharing my knowledge of insects with the garden team and visitors.
“The people I work with are great and I enjoy working with all of them. This is from the Head Gardener to the trainees who spend a year at Audley End. We all have great fun working together.”
7. You can engage with your local heritage
All of our sites have an incredibly rich history which is intertwined with the stories of the people who have lived and worked there across the centuries. Our volunteers find new ways to bring these stories to life and help visitors of all ages to understand and appreciate how we’re working to restore and protect them.
Allison Tanner says she was out of work and unfulfilled when she moved to Hastings with her family. She had always loved history and had dreamed of being a teacher when she was younger. After regular visit to Battle Abbey, she volunteered to lead education sessions, known as Discovery Visits:
“The role involves dressing up, telling stories, handling weapons, working with children and meeting new people – what’s not to like? Bringing 1066 to life for the children is a wonderful experience – every Discovery Visit is in fact a new discovery for me.
“I am always learning something new and seeing the students’ enthusiasm during the sessions is so rewarding.”
Make volunteering your New Year’s resolution
There’s never been a better time to volunteer for English Heritage. Whether as a gardener, a room guide, or steward, you could play an important role in protecting our historic buildings and making sure our visitors have a truly memorable experience.
We have six more ideas for resolutions you won’t want to break – if you take up the challenge, let us know how you’re getting on in the comments.