Volunteering at Wakefield Museums

Building a new volunteer programme from scratch for Wakefield’s museums and castles


Between 2012 and 2014, Wakefield Museums were unable to maintain a volunteer programme, due to a combination of a high level of organisational change and the relocation of museum sites.

However, in 2014, with support from Museum Development Yorkshire, they put together a brand new volunteer programme, working with York CVS.

Because Wakefield Museums do not have a volunteer manager, they needed to develop a programme which would operate satisfactorily without one. This meant that instead of recruiting a pool of volunteers, they recruited to individual or specific projects.

Now, whenever a member of their museums team needs volunteer support for a project, they put together a role description for that specific purpose and then recruit short-term volunteers to assist.

For their castles, they have taken a slightly different approach. At Pontefract Castle, they have the benefit of HLF-funding for four years, which includes support for a volunteer co-ordinator. The co-ordinator is currently developing a longer-term programme for a number of volunteer roles including an events assistant, customer services (which include visitor guides and front-of-house) grounds maintenance and administration, using the museum-developed structure of defined volunteer roles.  This approach will help to promote sustainability after the end of the funded project.

A four year project

The four year project aims to recruit 40 volunteers over its lifetime, and has already attracted 19 recruits from a range of ages and sectors of Wakefield’s diverse communities. These roles complement rather than aim to replace the work of paid staff and the museum service works to ensure that the volunteers gain the skills and experience that they desire from volunteering.

An evaluation of the volunteering programme shows it is demonstrating its valuable role in developing important skills and engaging diverse communities in the life of Wakefield’s castles and museums.

They believe this approach is an innovative and effective way of creating a sustainable volunteer programme, which will continue to benefit us through the coming years.


Anne Lister

Providing new perspectives on LGBT history in Calderdale

calderdale-anne-listerAnne Lister (1791-1840) is often described as the most famous (or infamous) resident of Shibden Hall, a beautiful historic house dating back to 1420, owned and managed by Calderdale Museums.

Anne was a Victorian landowner, businesswoman, traveller and diarist, and it was the publication of her diaries in the late 1980s, revealing her feelings for other women and her lesbian relationships, which have contributed to her subsequent notoriety. In 2010, BBC Two broadcast a production based on Lister’s life, The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister, starring Maxine Peake as Lister.

In telling the story of Shibden Hall, previous generations, in keeping with prevailing attitudes of the time, have skirted around Anne’s sexual orientation. Indeed, when her diaries were first decoded in the 1930s, they were nearly burned owing to their ‘scandalous nature’, and were subsequently hidden behind a panel for decades until being rediscovered and published.

Modern audiences clearly expect better. We have been keen to make her an integral part of our interpretation of the hall, recognising her lesbianism, while also making clear that she was a complex and very human figure, not just a one-dimensional icon. To do this, we have engaged with her biographer and the translator of her diaries, as well as people with a passion for LGBT history.

A ‘warts and all’ portrayal

We believe this approach is the right one. Shibden Hall is now very firmly on the list of important places to visit for people with an interest in LGBT history. We have received positive feedback on our approach to her story from LGBT individuals and community groups, who like the fact that we show her ‘warts and all’.

We want to ensure that the way we tell her story continues to evolve and stay fresh, and have used Shibden Hall as the setting for the ‘Inaugural Anne Lister Conference; women, gender and sexuality in the 19th Century’ in April 2014.

Kirkstall Abbey Deli Market

Nourishing success

kirkstall-abbey-deli-marketThe Kirkstall Abbey deli and craft market is a great example of how imaginative use of heritage sites can sometimes help create something very special. It runs on the last weekend of every month.

In 2010, we were considering how we could use the beautiful grounds of Kirkstall Abbey to provide some kind of hub for the local community in Kirkstall. With the support of local councillors, we were able to get a small deli market going. At the heart of this scheme was a strong commitment to showcase only locally sourced and reasonably unique Yorkshire products.

The rapid success of the market took us all by surprise. Within the first few months, the original 10 stalls in the abbey’s small courtyard proved insufficient, and we had to shift to the cloister, which is able to house 50.

As well as food, the market has now expanded to include craft stalls. It provides a unique showcase for small, talented local producers, many of whom have gone on to set up their own shops or web enterprises. Indeed, the existence of the market has inspired many local entrepreneurs to set up small food or craft businesses, knowing that they would have a reliable and popular outlet for their wares.

A great draw to the Abbey

The market now brings us around £8000/year in profit. During the summer months, we attract 8-10k weekend visitors to the Kirkstall Abbey site when the market runs, compared with 2-3k visitors on a non-market weekend.

We believe that the market is now helping provide a valuable community activity for people in Kirkstall and beyond, as well as putting the abbey in a position at the heart of local life that it has not had since the Reformation.

Art and Science of Noticing Workshops at Bradford Museums

How Bradford’s museums and galleries are inspiring children and instilling communication, art and literacy skills


When the new National Curriculum was announced in 2013, it gave us an opportunity to review our schools learning offer. Many of our education programmes were fun and interactive but heavily tailored to narrow curriculum needs. We knew there was scope for a more child-centred approach, which used the parts of our collections that young people were interested in.to inspire and excite

Exploring the collections

This thinking inspired our Art and Science of Noticing workshops which have been delivered since September 2014 and are offered to both primary and secondary schools.
The workshops bring young people into our museums and galleries and actively encourage them to explore our diverse collections and find out for themselves what excites them.
During the workshops, we start to develop young people’s abilities to notice small details about objects and articulate what it is about the objects that interests them most.

This is followed by a drawing exercise where they can depict the objects on paper, and learn how to use pencils to control depth and tone. Over the course of the workshops, they get to draw a number of objects and details that they are interested in.

The sessions conclude with a literacy session in which we encourage the children to answer questions about their favourite item: what it is; where it came from; what adjective they might use to describe it; a simile they might use for it; a question they might ask of it. These questions and answers are then used by the young people to write and edit small poems, either individually or collectively.

The sessions have proven very popular with local schools, with some schools visiting regularly for this purpose. The children taking part have also brought their parents and families to our museums to share their enthusiasm.

Since the workshops started, we have run over 100 sessions for over 2,500 participants. The Art and Science of Noticing was recently shortlisted for the Museums and Heritage Educational Initiative Award 2015.

Being shortlisted for the award made us very proud, but our greatest satisfaction comes from the way the sessions excite the participants. They combine art, literacy, enquiry and analysis in a fun way that sends away the children – and even their teachers – buzzing with what they have experienced.