Widening Participation In A University Museum: Volunteering and Out Of School Hours Activities
First a few details about us: – the Egypt Centre is a small museum of Egyptian antiquities run by Swansea University. We are open 5 days a week, free to the public, and have a small budget of about £10,000 per year plus costs for 4 full-time members of staff. The collection comprises over 5000 objects and we have around 19,000 visitors per annum. There is more abou our history here.
Like many museums we have access problems. The majority of visitors tend to be from restricted socio-economic backgrounds and age-groups. However the problem is exacerbated by our situation on a university campus. To get to us you have to pass through a manned checkpoint and parking is usually almost impossible – not a welcoming experience. However, we have tried to overcome these problems and our two most successful schemes, our volunteer programme and our Out of School Hours workshops have gone some way to widening participation.
The volunteer programme made a virtue out of a necessity. Initially we were set up with only one member of staff with two galleries and a shop sales area to run! We had to rely on volunteers. However, we have since turned this to our advantage, using our volunteers to widen participation in the community. We now have a full time volunteer manager who panders to their every need! (Click here for more information on how to volunteer). Volunteers mainly help in the galleries acting as guides and leading school hands-on workshops. Workshop activities are very labour intensive with one leader ususally working with 10 children. A school usually visits for a day, and volunteers will normally work half a day or a whole day at a time. No changes are made to the activities, nor new activities introduced, without the input of volunteers.
Of course we have a number of ‘traditional’ volunteers whose help we welcome. However, we have also worked with Pathways Training, Working Links and Job Force Wales to employ people with learning or other difficulties. Their development after a few weeks here can be remarkable. Evidence is anecdotal but, for example, one volunteer who at first would not speak except through her helper now has a part time job and leads school activities. Another volunteer who has learning difficulties is able to show visitors, including university students, how to use the computer catalogue in the gallery.
We usually have around 100 volunteers, including child volunteers, and have been successful in gaining Millennium Volunteer Awards. This is used for volunteer training, trips to other museums, etc.
All volunteers are checked by the Criminal Records Bureau as part of our Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Policy. Advice was taken from the Child Protection Agency and includes a strict written code for volunteers working with children. Some volunteers are also children! If you visit the museum on a Saturday you may well be greeted by an enthusiastic child anxious to show you how to do Egyptian maths or demonstrate mummification on our ‘dummy mummy’.
If you are interested in some of the articles written by, and about, our volunteer programme you could look at articles in the Friends of the Egypt Centre newsletter, Inscriptions, which you can download as pdf files. The following have such articles: August 1999; December 2000 (a description by Sophia John aged 11 of her first day as a volunteer);September 2002 (article by volunteer Merlys Gavin); March 2003; April 2004 (all about our grant from Barings); August 2004 (a tribute to Tom Evans, a well respected volunteer who sadly is no longer with us); etc.
Our other big success concerns Out of School Hours workshops for children who are at risk of underachieving. In the past we have obtained funding from the lottery's New Opportunities Fund (NOF) toward running the project. Now we receive funding from Swansea University as well as organising fundraising events in order to run the workshops.
Schools with a high number of disadvantaged pupils are targeted. Pupils may be socially or economically disadvantaged. The scheme is a partnership programme with Swansea Council and so we have had advice and support from the schools. The teachers are asked to send those pupils whom they think would most benefit. Sadly, occasionally, the parents will not allow the children to visit despite the fact that transport and lunch are also provided free of charge.
14 children come to the Centre for two consecutive Saturdays and are given various fun activities to do – taking the innards out of the dummy-mummy to practice embalming is extremely popular. We also allow the handling of real Egyptian objects, children go to ‘scribe school’ and learn to write their name in hieroglyphs (some of the children cannot read or write English/Welsh), Egyptian maths is taught, etc. There are lots of craft activities and the resultant objects can be taken home. The workshops are also registered, and accredited, with Children's University Swansea.
At the end of the 2 days we have a presentation ceremony to which friends and relatives, as well as teachers, are invited. Each child has their moment of glory as they are called to collect their 'Young Egyptologist' and Children's University certificates. Many of the children, and their carers, have never set foot in a museum before, let alone a university museum. However, the initial apprehension is soon overcome by the children’s excitement.
Our aim is to improve literacy and numeracy but most importantly to build confidence and self esteem. Child friendly questionnaires help us judge success or failure, other evidence is more individual. We received a letter from one teacher saying that a particular child’s attitude to learning had changed so dramatically that she was now giving class talks on Egyptology and researching the subject in her own time!
Finally, who actually runs these programmes? The Volunteer Manager runs the volunteer and work experience programmes, while Wendy Goodridge, Assistant Curator, administers the Out of School Hours workshops. Wendy was the Centre’s very first volunteer! One leader and three helpers supervise the workshop activities. All of whom are ex-volunteers, now employed part-time.