Prior to the lockdown being implemented we had suspended all our volunteering projects. The Service has in excess of 100 volunteers working with us and the challenge was to stay in touch with our volunteers and to support them where we could. Initially we had hoped to begin a programme of sending out scans and photocopies of documents for our volunteers to work on, but by 24th March we had to close the Service and the buildings to staff as well.
We were fortunate in that we do have most volunteers email addresses, and many have signed up to our e-newsletter. However, we wanted a place where we could bring in people from beyond this restricted group and initially we came up with the idea of setting up a Facebook page for volunteers to share ideas with us and for us to join in and respond to the conversations that took place. We did set this up and it has had some success, but several volunteers wrote to us and said they did not use Facebook and didn’t intend to do so. Therefore we decided to set up a new blog for volunteers, a place where we could continue to engage volunteers with our collections and with ideas that might rise out of them.
The Learning Room’
To this end we set us a new blog for our volunteers called ‘The Learning Room’. We set this up with partners and support from across the county council. The aim was that it would be a space that volunteers could spend some time looking at ideas around areas they may have been working on whilst volunteering with us, or that they might wish to explore whist at home.
Learning new skills
Firstly we set up a Palaeography class with Jim Sutton, a lecturer at the Keele Latin Summer school. Jim sends us examples for people to work on and provides individual feedback on their transcripts. Prof. Alannah Tomkins from Keele University who leads one of our volunteer groups has been contributing each week with blog posts about the social history of medicine between 1628 and 1886. We have added blog pieces ourselves on how to use our sites such as Staffordshire Pastrack, guides to maps online, recent accessions and features by local libraries and the County Archaeologist in the Guide to Research section. We also have a section that supports the work of one of our volunteer groups researching English Place-names with the Institute for Name-Studies at Nottingham University.
Staying in touch
On the blog so far we have added over 20 posts since it was launched on April 14th, with over 500 individuals accessing the blog. In addition we have been regularly emailing our volunteers with news updates about what the staff have been up to and news of free access to resources such as FindmyPast and Ancestry. Some volunteer groups, such as those working with the Victoria County History and the Bawdy Courts of Lichfield projects, have been able to continue their research remotely and sufficient copies of documents were made to keep others busy during this difficult time. We owe our volunteers a great debt as over the years they have committed thousands upon thousands of hours to supporting our service. Staying in touch and offering, admittedly quite small moments of interest or distraction, has been we feel, the very least we could try and do.