Over 170 people have signed up to volunteer at Cumbria’s museums and art organisations thanks to an innovative new project.
Helping Hands is a two-year project that aims to break down the barriers to volunteering in Cumbria’s cultural sector by offering 1-2-1 mentoring, training and other support.
The organisers are now hoping that the focus on volunteering around the coronation through the Big Help Out will provide a further boost.
Figures released showed that 178 people had already signed up as volunteers since the scheme was launched with many of those volunteering for the first time say it has boosted their confidence and improved their job prospects.
Among them is Rebecca Moss who has started volunteering at Prism Arts, helping them with their work in supporting disabled artists.
She has already found volunteering to be deeply rewarding and hopes that it will open doors to a career in the arts.
“I chose to volunteer because when I was applying for jobs I really wanted I was regularly told that they had chosen a candidate who just had more experience. Throughout my education I wasn’t able to get a lot of that hands-on work experience and now volunteering is the best way of doing that.
“Volunteering has helped build my confidence and all the skills I need to get a job in the arts.
“Helping Hands has been a really good way of getting into volunteering. You have somebody to contact and help you access that world. It opens up so many amazing opportunities,” she said.
Matthew Proudman has been volunteering at Carlisle Castle with English Heritage which he describes as ‘deeply empowering’. It has boosted his confidence after a period in which he suffered with depression and lost his job.
It has also helped him land a job at the castle where he still volunteers, sharing his love of history with visitors.
“Volunteering has let me stretch my legs a bit – I can get a bit theatrical about my work which is something I would never have done before.
“Working at a site like this is something that employers definitely look for,” he said, adding that the Helping Hands project meant he had a ’ community of people’ around him for support.
Helping Hands has been given £500,000 in Government funding so that it can give support to new volunteers and improve access to a wide variety of groups who have not traditionally been involved in volunteering.
That support has ranged from mentoring to helping with transport issues and installing an access ramp at Tullie House to ensure wheelchair users can take part in volunteering.
Kate Parry, Head of Partnership at Cumbria Museum Consortium , is delighted with the response to Helping Hands and with the volunteer numbers which include strong representation for young people, those with disabilities and people who are neurodivergent .
“I am very, very pleased that we are making good progress with this unprecedented piece of collaboration across the county.
“It is fantastic to know that it is starting to make a difference and we are seeing a lot of people come forward and start to volunteer. It is especially rewarding when they are people who might not have volunteered before and might have had reasons why it might have been difficult and we are supporting them to make a start,” she said.
“We have had a good response from young people who are realising that volunteering can add to their lives and their future and we’re looking forward to broadening participation in volunteering this year,” she said.
The Helping Hands project has over 70 volunteering opportunities listed on its website which cover a wide range of roles including: translation; grounds maintenance; tour guides; gallery attendants; projectionists and craft makers.
Funded by Arts Council England, Helping Hands is led by Cumbria Museum Partnership, and involves 45 Cumbrian partners.
Additionally, Helping Hands will work with local organisations including Anti Racist Cumbria, Multicultural Cumbria, Cumbria Deaf Association and Triple A (Autism) Project to provide training and support for individuals.
If you’re interested in volunteering and would like to speak with a Helping Hands team member near you who can offer 1 to 1 mentoring and other support available to get started go to: www.helpinghandscumbria.org