Conservation of the three Shakespeare Birthplace Trust properties located in the centre of Stratford-upon-Avon is coordinated by our Town Houses House Steward, Emily Ireson. Her team comprises of one part-time Conservation Assistant and two volunteers at New Place, four volunteers at Shakespeare's Birthplace and five volunteers at Hall's Croft. This team of volunteers work hard all year round on weekly, seasonal and large scale projects.
The main qualities our House Steward looks for in volunteers are communication, commitment and enthusiasm. No previous conservation experience is necessary as long as you are willing to learn!
After having an initial meeting with the House Steward, conversation volunteers are given a tour around the site they will be volunteering at. The tour will note key areas where conservation is ongoing or needed, where paper files and risk assessments are kept and how to use the conservation tools and equipment.
Some collections handling and manual handling training is provided to empower volunteers to take the best care of the objects they are working with. To enhance this, we also have a biannual volunteer induction session which any SBT volunteers, new or existing, can attend to gain a better understanding of the Trust, its values and the benefits volunteering can bring.
The role of a Conservation Volunteer
Depending on the time of year the conservation volunteer role can differ. During the colder winter months from October to March, a more intense deep clean of the houses and collections is undertaken, in order to be less disruptive to the visitor experience. Whereas during the warmer spring and summer months, from April to September when opening hours are longer and visitor numbers higher, there is a lighter conservation work that goes on.
As well as working with the House Steward and fellow conservation volunteers, there are opportunities to engage the public with conservation across the Trust. During the winter season, the team host Conservation in Action displays, where they display conservation objects in the houses for visitors to see. This means that visitors get a peek behind the scenes to see what goes into preserving the houses and their collections, so that they can ask questions and perhaps even be inspired to volunteer themselves!
Communication, commitment and enthusiasm
As well as gaining experience in conservation, working closely as a team to preserve the houses and objects in the Trust's collections and building your confidence, there are many other benefits to being a conservation volunteer!
We host three socials each year as an opportunity for volunteers from different sites to get together and enjoy a social activity. After completing 20 hours of volunteering for the Trust, volunteers receive a photo volunteer badge which allows them free entry to any of the five Shakespeare Birthplace Trust properties and also a range of discounts across Stratford-upon-Avon in cafes, restaurants and other attractions within the town. Students of history or people interested in conservation experience may find volunteering beneficial to add to their CV or for job applications as practical experience and knowledge development.
One person who began her time at the Trust as a conservation volunteer is Katie Morrison. Following on from volunteering, she has gone on to work in a number of roles within the Trust and is now the visitor engagement and duty manager at Shakespeare's Birthplace. Joining the Trust as a volunteer in February 2017, Katie developed knowledge, skills and experience whilst volunteering that helped her continue on her journey at the Trust. Volunteering has the potential to open up opportunities for people in terms of experience, networking and building confidence.
So give volunteering with the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust a go and see where it may take you!