Volunteering in lockdown


I wonder how many people have - despite all the spare time in lockdown - not yet cleared their diaries and deleted activities, events, appointments and meetings scheduled a long time ago. I am one of these people, and my diary reminds me constantly of things that I would have done had the COVID19 pandemic not put a halt to all my plans.


So around this time, there are a lot of reminders connected with our AGM that ordinarily we would have held in Malaga next week: with most of the preparations completed before we went into lockdown, I now would be finalising Powerpoint presentations, getting my things ready to travel next Monday, and liaising with the volunteers and organisers in Spain (who all deserve a massive shout-out for all their hard work) to finalise arrangements. Instead, I get emails from airlines to inform me that they have refunded the flights; receive messages from Members saying how sad they are at not being able to meet up next week; and am working on making arrangements for a different type of AGM this year.


One of the activities we normally prepare for around the time of the AGM, and usually for the AGM, is the presentation of the Marsh Awards for volunteering with The Arts Society. This is always a wonderful occasion to celebrate some of the outstanding contributions made by volunteers of The Arts Society to heritage conservation and arts education. These awards are given to exemplary projects and volunteers, and you can read about this year’s winners here: https://theartssociety.org/arts-news-features/marsh-award-winners-2020. Some truly inspirational stories and projects - and people - that demonstrate the efforts, skills and commitment our Volunteers bring to their communities all over the UK and abroad. Thanks to ALL our Volunteers for all you do!


We had planned something rather special for the Marsh Awards ceremony this year, but those plans - also - had to be postponed: but we will hold this ceremony as soon as we are able to. For now, here some photos of some of the winners:


To read more about the the 2020 Marsh Awards click here.


Of course the lockdown also means that most of our volunteering projects are on hold for the time being. However, there are pockets of volunteering activity here and there: Heritage Volunteers of two Societies used their needle skills to make scrubs and an Arts Volunteer enlisted her family to make face masks for NHS staff. Our (volunteer) Head of Trails of Discovery is developing an idea for Members to create Trails to reveal their discoveries during the limited walks during lockdown. Together with my colleagues, our (again, volunteer) Head of Arts Volunteering has been very busy creating new ideas and initiatives which will help our Societies and Volunteers make a difference once we can run projects again. I’d love to hear what else our Volunteers are up during the lockdown, so please do share your stories in the comments below.


Our Volunteers’ skills, passion and commitment will be more crucial than ever to the arts and heritage sectors. As galleries, museums, historic houses, theatres and arts venues all over the world experience unprecedented challenges and hardships, we can only surmise how difficult it will be for many of these organisations to come back from this crisis. And yet, I live in the hope that people recognise - more than before - just how much the arts and heritage have enriched our lives during lockdown: the incredible wealth of content that has been available to everyone certainly has kept all of us engaged, moved and inspired. And I am sure when the time comes, our Volunteers will do their part in repaying the arts and heritage by working as hard as ever to make a difference.


In fact, hundreds, if not thousands of our Volunteers are already doing just that! Our Committees - all run by Volunteers - are busy Zooming, Mailchimping and WhatsApping to plan future activities for their Societies. Several Societies have already held online live lectures and come up with fantastically creative solutions in response to the lockdown and social distancing measures, connecting their Members with our fantastic Lecturers. This is an exciting new - and much needed - opportunity for us and for Societies.


Which brings me back to my diary. Despite lockdown, despite social distancing, and despite all my plans for May being completely changed, there are plenty of new entries for (virtual) meetings: for this afternoon, at 2.00pm, I have one that I really am looking forward to: Digital Summit. This is a meeting with a number of Societies to explore how we can use digital resources to connect our Societies with their Members until they can return to their venues and meet - once again - in person! May it be safe to do so soon!

This blog is composed by Florian Schweizer, CEO of The Arts Society, and made up of contributions by him and invited guest bloggers.