The Story Museum’s Young Volunteer Programme
Connie Wells, Volunteer Coordinator at The Story Museum
A little bit about us
Located in the heart of Oxford, The Story Museum is a most unusual museum that brings stories to life with a surprise around every corner. Celebrating the power of story in all its forms we create imaginative, immersive exhibitions that invite our visitors to explore stories from across time and around the world. The Story Museum’s mission is to enrich lives, especially young lives, through stories, and we achieve this by finding and sharing great stories in great ways and encouraging people to create their own, through a public programme of immersive exhibitions, interactive events and workshops for children and families, and participatory projects with artists and communities. All our activities are designed to harness the power of stories to enable creativity, learning and wellbeing.
Part of our mission of enriching young lives through stories is achieved by providing opportunities for young people to be a part of our mission, to engage with stories, and to learn and develop key skills; which is where our young volunteers programme comes in to play. Our young volunteering programme provides an opportunity for young volunteers, aged 13-18, to get involved with the operation of the Museum, and to be a part of the Story Musuem team; be this through Front of House visitor welcome roles in our Galleries and Small World spaces, Events or Learning and Participation volunteering, or through completing remote research. Currently, young volunteers make up 41% of our active volunteers. They make a huge contribution to the museum, volunteering a combined 575.5 hours over the last quarter.
Benefits of a young volunteer programme
There are many benefits to our young volunteer programme. Not only do young volunteers have great hour contribution potential, but volunteers themselves bring immense added value to the team, with young people bringing in fresh new perspectives, ideas and approaches to our work. It also helps us to achieve our overall missions and goals, particularly around inclusivity and diversity, and enriching young lives.
There are also huge benefits to young people through volunteering. Volunteering provides opportunities for young people to meet new people outside of their immediate circle of friends and family, encouraging interpersonal skills with a variety of people from differing cultures and backgrounds to them. It gives them the opportunity to try something new within a welcoming environment, to learn and develop new skills and gain work experience, which can be pivotal to future life chances and routes into employment. Volunteering also helps to build young people’s confidence and encourages an increased sense of self-worth; it can also help improve health and wellbeing. We have witnessed a marked increase in confidence and social and interpersonal skills in our young volunteers, from when they first start volunteering to even just few weeks in, demonstrating that it is an incredibly valuable opportunity to offer.
Volunteering for young people can also be an important step to opening up accessibility to careers in cultural venues. At the Story Museum, young volunteering links to our Pathways programme, which offers a ladder of career development opportunities to young people, including work experience and apprentice pathways; serving to provide accessible opportunities and skills development fundamental to future employment.
Considerations to setting up a young volunteer programme
There are considerations to bear in mind regarding setting up and running a young volunteer programme. Having the insurance and risk assessments in place to support young volunteers, as well as a robust safeguarding policy is of the upmost importance. Following government recommendations for working time for young people is also recommended, as is ensuring that staff members and supervisors who work with young volunteers regularly are DBS checked. Ensuring that staff members additionally receive regular training on volunteer management, and how to successfully engage with volunteers, is also of great importance in ensuring smooth operations, as is having clear procedures and role descriptions so that volunteers are very clear about boundaries and expectations. Its also important to ensure that all staff members are also trained in safeguarding and what to do in the event of disclosure, and that young volunteers are also made aware of this policy in their volunteer induction. We have found that flexibility is also of key importance to support young volunteers, and we thus have a variety of roles to suit different needs, as well as offering flexible hours and days, including on weekends and in school holidays. With young volunteers, offering flexibility around exam times and studying is vital, with the understanding that volunteering hours may fluctuate during these times.
This can all be challenging in regard to staff time, as young volunteers often require more support at the beginning of their volunteer journey than adult volunteers. Due to this, we continuously carry out evaluation through day-to-day conversations with young people, and the staff members supporting them, to check in on how they are doing, keep open lines of communication, and providing feedback. We additionally respond to feedback from young volunteers and staff members alike, reviewing policies and practices where needed, as well as evaluating the success of the programme regularly – as we say at the Story Museum, we are ‘always learning and growing’!
In regards to recruitment of young volunteers, it’s essential to have good relationships with local schools and colleges, libraries, and community groups to provide and promote accessible volunteering for young people. We also attend careers fairs, such as the brilliant ‘Careers Fest’ hosted by OxLEP, and speak in colleges as to the benefits of young volunteering and to promote our volunteering opportunities. We’re currently working on having more promotion within local community groups of these opportunities, as well as with organizations who work with young people outside of formal education, such as Scouts, or The Duke of Edinburgh award. Though it must be noted that a significant number of our young volunteers already currently volunteer as part of their Duke of Edinburgh Award. Supporting Duke of Edinburgh volunteering can be the perfect opportunity for fulfilling volunteering hours requirements, with bronze requiring three months of volunteering, and silver requiring six months of volunteering. This means that young people completing this programme volunteer regularly over set periods, and often leads to young volunteers continuing to volunteer with us in the longer term after their Duke of Edinburgh requirements are fulfilled. Word of mouth recommendations of these opportunities do spread quickly. A significant percentage of our applications are from young people who have heard of other students volunteering and also want to get involved.
To sum up….
Having a Young Volunteer programme is not without its challenges. Working with young people is very rewarding but does require a lot of staff time and extra support; something that not every organisation would be able to provide. Though, it must be emphasised that the benefits of supporting young people through volunteering absolutely outweighs any challenges. Starting small, and implementing small changes such as hosting a couple of Duke of Edinburgh students, or having a young person volunteering open day, can make a huge difference.
The proof is really in the pudding, so I wanted to end this article with quotes from a few of our young volunteers.
‘I’ve found my time with the Story Museum to be incredibly fun and informative. It’s given me the chance to meet a lot of new people, who all are kind and passionate in their work, who all have different stories to tell and experiences to share. I’ve gained more confidence, being able to talk to people easier than I ever have before and gaining a new understanding of stories from all around the world.’ TSM Young Volunteer, 2023.
‘I loved working at The Story Museum as a young volunteer. Everybody I spoke to was incredibly helpful and made me feel very welcome. It was so lovely to feel that I was making a valuable contribution on Alice’s Day. My favourite part of the day was helping in the Magic Common Room with the craft activities. My favourite part of my volunteering experience was working in the Small Worlds. It was amazing to see the Story Guides engaging the children with their stories, and I really enjoyed making the crafts with the children. Connie was amazing at coordinating my volunteering hours and it was always nice to see her while I was at the museum.’ TSM Young Volunteer, 2022.
‘My Work Experience and Volunteering has helped me in preparing not just for the future but also for my current Full Time Job… as I can confidently engage with customers with children and ensure that their needs are looked after. TSM Young Volunteer, 2022