Remote Volunteering with Warwickshire County Record Office
Since March 2020, Warwickshire County Record Office (WCRO) has offered an opportunity for anyone with a PC or laptop and an internet connection to get involved with volunteering, be that from home, their local library, community centre or even internet café. WCRO named it WOVeN for ‘Warwickshire Online Volunteer Network’ because they like to emphasise the connection of their volunteers, wherever they are in the world, through the projects they are working on.
WOVeN’s origins are in a project run by the record office in 2008/9 when remote volunteering formed one element of the Outside the Box project to conserve and catalogue a recently-acquired collection of estate papers. An external company was brought in to scan suitable records from the collection and the images, with an accompanying Word document to fill in, were sent to volunteers by email for them to transcribe at home.
In digital terms it all sounds positively primitive compared with the tools we have available today and although moderately successful in project terms, the venture wasn’t pursued!
By 2019, the digital landscape had changed radically. Many more people were using the internet and sophisticated tools like cloud storage and online document sharing were freely available. In addition, much more funding was being ploughed into digital initiatives, making the proposal of a new remote volunteering offer realistic.
So, Warwickshire Bytes was born. Like Outside the Box, remote volunteering was still only one element of a more wide-ranging project, but by now the time was right and it proved it could be successful on a large scale.
A member of WCRO staff with an impressive digital skillset developed a piece of software to automate and manage many of the processes involved – allocating work, monitoring progress and checking accuracy – allowing WCRO to incorporate remote volunteering into its core service without any additional staff or financial resources.
A suite of projects
WCRO are now approaching the final phase of their first project – indexing their collection of Quarter Sessions depositions – and have introduced a suite of others designed to appeal to a range of interests and digital skill levels. Volunteers can choose to index 300 years of wage books from Warwick Castle, create an electronic catalogue for WCRO’s library or transcribe almost a century of Warwickshire memories from oral history interviews.
Today WCRO have around 100 volunteers signed up with between 70 and 80 active at any one time. They are mostly UK-based, but WCRO also have people in Europe, Canada, the US, Australia and Brazil. Some are housebound or have caring duties which prevent their participation in person. Similarly, others have used online information in their research and enjoy the feeling of giving something back. Others are attracted to projects because they have family connections to Warwickshire or have a passion for local, family or social history.
Sharon Forman, Engagement Archivist proudly observed
We are delighted with the success of WOVeN so far and provided we can keep up with the leaps in technology, there doesn’t have be a limit on where we can take it.