“The best way to not feel hopeless is to get up and do something. Don’t wait for good things to happen to you. If you go out and make some good things happen, you will fill the world with hope, you will fill yourself with hope.”
― Barack Obama
On the evening of 6th June, towards the end of this year’s Volunteers’ Week, I had the privilege of attending the Erewash Museum Volunteer Party and Awards. As ever, it was a roomful of happy people celebrating what the museum has achieved – and what it can only achieve through the power of the volunteer team.
I had the honour of being the museum’s Volunteer Coordinator for most of the Heritage Lottery Fund funded project which ended in 2018. When I arrived, we had a handful of dedicated volunteers, who were brilliant, but nowhere near the army needed to enable us to achieve everything in our vision for the next few years. Now, four years on, the museum has around 50 regular volunteers and others who volunteer for short term projects, or undertake work experience. Many of these return and join the long term volunteer team.
As soon as we opened the museum to increased volunteer opportunities, we were astonished at how many people came forward. We’d been nervous – after all, we were asking people for their time and energy for free. But Erewash Museum is so loved in its community that the chance to be part of it appealed to a diverse range of prospective volunteers, from students to retired people. Every day at the museum, I received new applications, met new people. Sometimes, it was clear what role they would help us with. Other times, they just wanted to help, to join the team, be part of the museum. It is one of my greatest joys to see many of those people still volunteering at the museum, in roles they’ve undertaken and defined and come to have ownership of – including this year’s Volunteer of the Year. I can look back now on many of those initial meetings and see how the museum’s volunteers have grown in camaraderie, skills, confidence and – yes – both hope and happiness.
I still volunteer at the museum when I can – which isn’t as often as I’d like. But it’s an amazing team to be part of and I don’t want to leave it behind. Every time I join the volunteer team – for a party like last night, or for volunteering at an event, I am filled with real hope. We live in difficult times, for museums, and society in general. But the Erewash Museum volunteer team – with people from all kinds of backgrounds and with all kinds of motivations for volunteering – are making good things happen. They enable the museum to host community events, to run a friendly tea room, to put on wellbeing activities and to preserve and share the stories of Erewash in objects, archives and exhibitions. But they also create a community of their own, the warmth of which fills the museum. They welcome new members of their team with open arms. As they, themselves, benefit from their connection with the museum, so they spread that to others.
Every single one of those people got up one day and decided to apply to be a volunteer. They went out with the intention of making good things happen, for themselves and others – and volunteering at Erewash Museum was their conduit for that. Since I’ve left the museum, I’ve met volunteers in other contexts too. All of them are amazing and should be celebrated for Volunteers’ Week and beyond. They are filling the world with hope – and I’d like to say a big thank you to all of them.