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12th March 2012

Manchester volunteer programme boosts local employment

Museum schemes offer Mancunians a way out of the recession with training programmes and practical work experience

Manchester’s Universities are expanding a series of volunteer programmes, which have helped local people back into work.

Following last month’s Arts Council funding announcement, the Manchester Partnership are intending to expand their volunteer programmes following the success of the In Touch and Culture Works schemes, aimed at broadening community access.

In Touch, a 10 week volunteer and training course organized between 2007 and 2010 by The Manchester Museum and Imperial War Museum North, targeted the long term unemployed around the city.

The programme placed the participants in one of the museum’s public facing roles, where they learn consumer interaction skills alongside a literary qualification.

Former volunteer Helen Hopkins felt this practical experience was essential to getting herself back on her feet.

“I would go into an interview”, she says “and they would tell me “You’ve not got enough customer service experience”. She enrolled on the course after “I tried to look for a job and I found it very difficult”.

64 percent of unemployed participants in the scheme had been out of work for more than a year. 18 percent of the scheme volunteers have now moved on to employment and 49 percent are now in further education.

The ten week course included an optional literacy qualification. 95 percent of those who took the qualification passed.

Jim Forrester, Director of Imperial War Museum North has praised the scheme. “For the individual it provides an opportunity to move away from isolation, engage in social interaction, learn new transferrable skills…and gain increased confidence” he said.

Shaun Bennett, a former volunteer certainly feels this is the case. He was unemployed for 6 months after taking voluntary redundancy from a computer firm at which he was a manager.

He wanted to change careers and go into face-to-face customer service. ‘It was exciting at the beginning’, is how he described his redundancy, ‘then you start loosing your self-esteem and confidence and you just go downhill’.

He found the In Touch programme whilst on stress-related incapacity benefit. He was given considerable responsibility as a volunteer to set up the Egypt handling table, which involved ‘working with the curators and coming up with a theme’.

In Touch gave him the experience and confidence to find outside employment before he heard about a position going at the museum. ‘I jumped at the chance’, he said.

Shaun is now employed full time as a Visitor Service supervisor at The Manchester Museum.

This programme forms part of a series of ventures by Manchester Museums over the past few years which have increased community involvement and visitor interaction with collections.

Culture Works has been running since late 2011 as a volunteer placement, work experience & training programme. In conjunction with Manchester College and the City Council, this one-off scheme’s training course has recently finished and particpants are now taking up work placements at cultural venues across the city.

The commitment to engage with unemployed, young and vulnerable people from Manchester forms part of the University’s 2015 Manchester Vision target to increase its participation within local communities.

Shaun describes The Manchester Museum as a ‘unique atmosphere to work in’ and he feels that volunteers really give something back to the programme that has helped them so much personally. ‘Museums couldn’t work without volunteers’.

The University plans to expand their community projects with a new three year programme called Improving Futures, targeting people vulnerable to social isolation.

Gareth Lewis

Gareth Lewis

Former news editor (2011-2012).

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