Volunteers' Voice #6 – Student volunteers

At the beginning of a new University term, Rob Davies, Volunteer Coordinator, talks about student volunteers at the University Museums and Special Collections.

It is the start of the academic year which for us at the University Museums means we have an influx of eager students willing to volunteer. With the current economic climate and the competition for work, volunteering is considered an excellent means of gaining crucial skills that will make you more appealing to employers. There are plenty of events where students can find out about opportunities. I was recently at the Reading University Students Union Volunteering Fayre, an excellent day that encouraged students to volunteer at a variety of organisations.

At the University Museums and Special Collections Service we have a long history of working with student volunteers. Students make up about half of our volunteers, they are fun to work with and provide new ideas and an open mind. I know there is talk within the sector of students being unreliable volunteers, in my experience they are very reliable and if they do prove unreliable in certain programmes then I think it is an issue with the volunteer programme and not the students.

A student volunteering at the MERL Village Fete. Stuart went on to work as a Museum Assistant at MERL before leaving to study for a PhD.
A student volunteering at the MERL Village Fete. Stuart went on to work as a Museum Assistant at MERL before leaving to study for a PhD.

Students quickly immerse themselves into our volunteer programme, volunteering in a host of roles including marketing, gardening, learning activities, large events, tour guiding and I even have the odd student volunteering with me! They are provided with training, support, an idea of the roles available to them within the arts and heritage sector and plenty of opportunities to meet fellow volunteers, such as parties, socials and group visits. We support many students into employment after they have graduated, providing references, giving career advice and sign posting students in the right direction.

The University also provides a fantastic scheme called the RED Award; this is an award aimed at encouraging students to volunteer and play a role in their community. This award is well worth the time because it officially recognises volunteering and is part of the final certificate students receive on graduating.

Of course students often disappear during the holidays and leave a hole in my volunteer programme; I fill this with students returning home to Reading who have a lot of time on their hands. Volunteering during the holidays for students is often a more enjoyable for them because they don’t have to deal with the stresses of studying, plus it gets them out of the house!

At the University we have been offering Museum Studies modules for several years from this term there is now a new Museums Studies undergraduate course which can be combined with Classical Studies or Archaeology. Students on these courses in particular enjoy the opportunity to get more involved with the museums and collections at Reading. The more experience a student gains during their time at University the higher the possibility of them gaining employment in their chosen sector or going onto further study within their area of choice.  One of my previous student volunteers, Charley, volunteered on various archive projects throughout her three years as a student. This experience helped her find employment and she is now working for Fishbourne Roman Palace. Many others have gone on to study at postgraduate level or to work in the sector.

It is our responsibility as an organisation to support young people in gaining this experience. Students and young people bring enthusiasm, energy and new ideas to an organisation and should be openly embraced.

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