Museums and Mental Health

How Bradford’s museums are helping volunteers with mental health issues into work

Bradford Museums and Galleries have a strong volunteer programme with over 100 active participants.

Many of these are retired and not seeking paid employment. However, we also work with many much younger volunteers, who would like to find paid work, but for various reasons, lack the skills and confidence to do so.

One such group is people with mental health issues. We have been keen to include them in our volunteer programme, and we have been working with the Cellar Trust – a locally-based charity which helps people who have mental health problems with their rehabilitation.

We believe that everyone has to potential to bring skills which can benefit our organisation, and that learning to work with people whose behaviour can sometimes be challenging can be a positive learning experience for our staff.

The Cellar Trust introduced us to William – a man in his 30s, who has Aspergers.

William was able to volunteer to help on an important collections documentation project. This work can be repetitive, but also requires high levels of concentration, focus and accuracy in describing and recording details of objects in our collection onto a database.

William was able to put a lot of his personal qualities to good use in this work, while also getting used to life in a working environment. We got through a big chunk of our documentation backlog with his help. Gavin, our collections manager, who supervised him, gained a lot of valuable experience of adapting the requirements of his work programme to the needs of individual volunteers, and also how best to engage with support workers.

We have been able to use our experience of working with William to improve the quality of our evaluation tools, so that we can be more responsive to the needs of our diverse volunteer base.

Following his time with us, William has gone on to achieve his first ever paid job, working on large and complex databases for Bradford College. He believes that the skills and confidence he gained whilst volunteering with us have been directly responsible for his success.

We are continuing to work with the Cellar Trust to support more people like William through our volunteer programme.


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