Museums Secure Investing in Volunteers Accreditation

Investing in Volunteers
Investing in Volunteers

READING Museum and The Museum of English Rural Life (The MERL) have both successfully renewed their Investing in Volunteers quality standard this month, having applied as a partnership for the first time.

The prestigious national accreditation has been achieved by the two museums as part of the Museums Partnership Reading (MPR). The two museums worked together to identify best practice, and have started the process of merging their volunteering programmes as part of their Arts Council funded partnership.

The National Council of Voluntary Organisation’s ‘Investing in Volunteers’ (IiV) is the UK quality standard. It aims to ensure quality volunteering experiences and that organisations acknowledge the enormous contributions made by volunteers.

An assessor from Investing in Volunteering visited the museums on 13th and 14th December 2018 and interviewed museum staff as well as a total of 33 volunteers from across the two museums.

The MERL volunteer knitting group
The MERL volunteer knitting group

Reading Borough Council’s Reading Museum and The MERL at the University of Reading were assessed against a range of best practice standards, including showing a commitment to volunteers; valuing and recognising their contribution to the organisation; providing flexible, enjoyable volunteering opportunities; providing clear procedures and appropriate resources, and offering fair recruitment that reflects the diversity of the local community.

The assessment highlighted how a broad range of volunteers contribute significantly at both museums, with a total of 146 volunteers involved.

The museums benefit from volunteers involved in a wide range of activities, including visitor and public engagement – front of house, tour guides and object handlers, performers, costumed interpreters, events volunteers, stewards.  Behind the scenes roles include wardrobe assistants, collections volunteers, sewing, knitting, learning and gardening volunteers. There are one-off roles such as helping to develop social media and outreach projects.

Following the assessment, both museums were found to be performing well in all aspects of working with volunteers, and the assessor made some helpful suggestions on how they could continue to improve.

The assessor said: “At both museums there was a clear understanding of the benefits of involving volunteers and of what volunteers bring…… the mutuality of the relationship was also well understood.”

Empress Matilda Historical Interpreter
Empress Matilda Historical Interpreter

Jen Woodhams, from east Reading, volunteers as an historical interpreter with Reading Museum, playing Empress Matilda and has also previously volunteered with The MERL as a tour guide.

Jen said: “I started with The MERL as a volunteer tour guide in early 2011 shortly after I had retired. I’ve always loved history and the role gave me a unique insight into the history of Reading. The role eventually led to paid work at the museum, which is always a bonus! I don’t think you can underestimate the avenues volunteering opens up for you.

“My present role volunteering with Reading Museum as Empress Matilda allows me to indulge my love of dressing up in a fabulous costume, with my passion for history and in bringing local history to life for people. I think many people are surprised by what a rich history Reading actually has!”
View an interview with Jen here:

Isabel Hughes, The MERL’s Head of Curatorial and Public Engagement, said: “We are delighted to have been awarded Investing in Volunteers status again.  The scheme helps ensure we represent best practice for volunteering. This time we have been able to apply in partnership with Reading Museum, opening the way for our volunteer teams to work more closely, and for us to promote new volunteering opportunities widely across Reading.  We value highly the contribution that local people and our students make to the life of The MERL when they volunteer with us.  Over the past year we have supported 125 volunteers who donated over 4,500 hours of their time.” View a video about volunteering at The MERL here

Cllr Sarah Hacker, Reading’s Lead Member for Culture, Heritage and Recreation, said: “I am delighted this important accreditation has been secured and particularly proud of the outstanding partnership work that is taking place between Reading Museum and The MERL that has significantly contributed to securing this quality standard.

“Volunteers make such a valuable contribution to the museums and we have shown a clear commitment to providing volunteering opportunities that are worthwhile to both the service and, just as importantly, to the volunteer. The staff and volunteers have all contributed to this award and I’d like to thank everyone involved, especially the volunteers, who do so much to enhance Reading’s cultural offer.”



Photo Call: Photo opportunity with Reading Museum and The MERL staff and volunteers in the Abbey Ruins on Thursday 14th February at 11.15am.

Museums Partnership Reading

Museums Partnership Reading is a consortium made up of Reading Museum and the Museum of English Rural Life (The MERL). Together, the two museums are a Band 1 Arts Council England (ACE) National Portfolio Organisation from April 2018-April 2022.

Both museums have held Investing in Volunteers (IiV) accreditation as separate entities – for both this is the third assessment, Reading Museum having been assessed in 2011 and 2015, and The MERL in 2012 and 2016.

How to volunteer

Find out more about volunteering opportunities at:


View the Museums Partnerships Reading Investing in Volunteers report here:

Investing in Volunteers

Find out more about Investing in Volunteers at:

Victoria Nickless

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