Reaching new audiences through micro-volunteering

Wiltshire Museum’s ‘Letters Home’ project used micro-volunteering* to engage a wide range of new audiences. Twenty-nine volunteers wrote fictional letters home from local men who died in action in WW1. The letters generated overwhelmingly positive feedback from the community.

* Micro-volunteering is when volunteers complete small tasks that make up a larger project. They are ideal for people who don’t have much time, and can’t make long-term commitments.

The project was part of the museum’s exhibition ‘Wiltshire Remembers: Aftermath of the First World War’, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, and a larger commemoration within Devizes for the 100th anniversary of the end of WW1.

Rachael Holtom, Development Officer at Wiltshire Museum, explains how the project was run and the benefits for the museum and community.

“Words are cheap but they can create priceless museum outreach!”

Rachael Holtom

  • Finding names of local men who died in action during WW1 – based on Richard Broadhead’s book of soldier biographies and linked to a memorial featured in the exhibition.
  • Advertising through social media and local press for volunteers to write ‘letters home’ from these men.
  • Assigning a soldier’s name to each volunteer and giving them a brief biographical background.
  • Printing the finished letters and posting them around town.
  • Posting the finished letters on the museum’s social media.
  • The letters were displayed in the museum.
I found myself researching the weather as I wanted it to be real. I also researched the ship and the battle as they were unfamiliar… One final comment is that one of the other names turned out to be a relative on my husband’s side, I had no idea until I saw the final list of names.” Lucy, micro-volunteer
William Eddowes Green, WW1 soldier
  • Engaging new audiences locally and much further afield
  • Trialling micro-volunteering
  • Involving the community
  • Commemorating WW1 and those who died

“It brought home to me the utter futility of war, when they tried to send a man in poor health for basic training and he died before setting foot on foreign soil as a result.”

Roz, micro-volunteer

 

  • Found biographies that were diverse and inspiring (and of local men) – reflective of various battles, continents and forces
  • Researched social media accounts to help spread the word
  • Developed volunteer briefing notes and drafted a sample letter
  • Wrote and sent out press release and marketed to our volunteers
  • Waited for letters to arrive

William Herbert Bambridge, WW1 soldier William Herbert Bambridge, WW1 soldier

  • Twenty-nine ‘micro-volunteers’ – 25 of whom had not been involved with the museum previously
  • Total cost (excluding staff time): £643
  • Hundreds of social media engagements
  • An invitation to run a workshop about the project at the SouthWestFed Conference in 2019

“I felt quite moved by my involvement with the project – my boy being only 15 when he joined up really touched me. I tried to get the feelings of that half boy, half man in the letter and found it quite a challenge to make it believable.”

Rosaleen, micro-volunteer

 

Letters Home project – social media post
  • A teacher, originally from Devizes but now teaching in Poland contacted us about taking part – indicative of the reach of the project.
  • A nearby neighbour whose house was home to one of the soldiers who died created a window box to commemorate that soldier. As people stopped to look at it, she went out to talk to them. This included a local primary school teacher who took the letter writing idea back to her class.
  • Local poppy seller told us that our letters were helping him to sell more poppies in town.

We also involved a diverse range of volunteers, many of whom hadn’t been involved with the museum before:

  • Writer and poets / Devizes Writers Group
  • Museum volunteers
  • Ex-service men and women
  • A class of primary school pupils
  • A Bath Spa Museum Studies student
  • Swindon College students
  • Child of seven and a young person of 14
  • People who had lost grandparents etc in the war and wanted to connect.
  • People who wanted to take part in WW1 commemorations but could not find another way that fitted with their lives.
  • People who were in full-time work

Window box created during Letters Home project

  • Allow more time for recruitment of volunteers – this project was advertised for only a few weeks.
  • Spend more resources on displaying the letters around the town – make sure they are very waterproof!
  • Build the finished work into the exhibition planning.
  • Consider how to evaluate.

  • Writing projects are great for engaging full-time working volunteers, where they can participate in the evenings/weekends.
  • Social media reach can be huge and a great way to advertise for micro-volunteers.
  • Involving the community in a project/exhibition gives them a sense of ownership and increases the likelihood of them visiting.

WW1 commemoration project in Devizes

  • There are stories linked to any exhibition – it doesn’t have to be war related!
  • Think about a project that will resonate with people, something that will get them invested in a story.
  • Consider who you are targeting – local audiences or further afield?

Rachael Holtom, Development Officer, Wiltshire Museum
[email protected]m.org.uk

 

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