Volunteers are lifeblood of Sheffield's National Emergency Services Museum
Step into the National Emergency Services Museum (NESM) in Sheffield and you’ll be greeted by a member of their friendly front desk team.
Wander around the museum on West Bar and you might see someone helping to conserve a historic vehicle or refurbishing part of the 120-year-old building.
Visit at a weekend and you’ll probably enjoy a ride on a real fire engine or even see a demonstration of the iconic firefighters’ pole drop!
Unsurprisingly, it takes a lot of people power to keep a museum like NESM running and to ensure that every one of the 30,000 visitors each year gets a fantastic and fun experience.
What may be more of a surprise is that the vast majority of those providing this great experience are doing so for free as volunteers.
“Our volunteers are the lifeblood of our museum,” said Holly Roberts, the museum’s curator and one of only two full-time staff members.
“As an independent, self-funded museum and a charity we wouldn’t be able to operate at all without people giving up their time to support us.
“They really do have a huge impact both on the success of the museum and on the visitor experience.”
Volunteers at NESM are encouraged to become fully involved in every aspect of the museum.
This means helping with anything from designing and building new exhibitions or restoring and maintaining vintage vehicles to refurbishing NESM’s Victorian building.
Volunteers also help to conserve and archive the one million objects in the museum’s collection and deliver special events both in the museum and outside it.
They even jump into the driver’s seat of historic fire engines or police cars to attend shows, schools and weddings.
It is this opportunity to be immersed in the life of the museum that gives volunteering at NESM its unique character, said Holly.
While she recognises that the museum is competing with many other charities and organisations for volunteers, Holly believes that the varied opportunities at NESM provide a more rounded experience than some other organisations can offer.
She said: “We want our volunteers to be able to make a genuine impact and become a real part of our team and our success.
“This means they need to be prepared to be flexible and get stuck in to tasks outside their main role when required. But it also means benefiting from a fun experience with lots of variety and loads of opportunity to learn new things.
“NESM is also the perfect place for those looking to spend their free time somewhere unique and be part of a forward-thinking organisation at a really exciting time.”
Patrick Coleman, a volunteer with the collections team since 2018, agrees.
“NESM volunteers get much more hands-on experience than most museums offer and we get to use the skills and knowledge we have.
“At NESM the team recognise the interests and abilities of their volunteers and allow them to make a genuine contribution.
“They really listen to your ideas and help to guide you, as well as trusting you with the museum’s collection and offering training and advice.
“A few months here is better than many courses when it comes to gaining practical experience.”
NESM is also striving to increase the diversity of its volunteer team, ensuring that it nurtures a multi-skilled group of various ages and backgrounds that reflects the community in which it sits.
To support this aim the museum already offers opportunities for volunteers with additional needs through a partnership with Sheffield’s Autism Centre for Supported Employment.
It’s not only the museum that benefits from these partnerships; there are plenty of pluses for the volunteers themselves too.
For those seeking a career in culture or heritage it can provide valuable experience and offer an alternative access route into work.
It allows people to learn new skills, boost their confidence and meet new people.
What’s more, volunteering can also have a positive impact on health and wellbeing; in a recent survey three-quarters of UK volunteers said that volunteering improved their mental health.
Mick Kingston, one of the museum’s longest-serving volunteers, has felt these benefits.
He said: “Volunteering at the museum keeps my mind and body active.
“The varied day-to-day tasks mean I learn new things and keep up with hobbies and interests.”
The museum has recently relaunched its volunteer programme and is currently recruiting to its visitor experience, maintenance and driving teams.
If you are interested in learning more about volunteering, visit www.emergencymuseum.org.uk/volunteers.html or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.