University of St Mark and St John Plymouth wins 2014 National Volunteering Award

'The challenges in making this project a success should not be underestimated...whatone does with resources available is critical and this project has donea huge amount with not a lot!'


A project to improve the employment opportunities and life skills of long term unemployed and people with disabilities in Plymouth has won the University of St Mark and St John the prestigious national Archive Volunteering Award of 2014. 
DSC 3065 edited-1The award was presented at an event held in the University’s archive on 5 November. The University’s Vice-Chancellor Professor Cara Aitchison and Archivist Gil Fewings accepted the award on behalf of all who had worked on the ‘Connected Catalogue’ project. A number of the project’s volunteers spoke about their involvement and how working in the archive had affected them. 
As part of the ‘Connected Catalogue’ project (which had no funding) volunteers worked within the archive to help catalogue, improve access to the collections and put on displays and exhibitions.
Eighteen volunteers joined in the project, including some with mental health issues seeking employment and three of the university’s students. Each individual chose a subject from the archive collection around which s/he designed a project with a clear output – a display, talk, exhibition etc. External training workshops were offered to add to the life skills and confidence of the volunteers. 
Seven of the volunteers found employment, began businesses or gained places on further education courses. Some volunteers found the process genuinely transformational, simply because they were valued and included in a public institution. One volunteer who did not complete his education in the 1960s said: ‘I’ve finally got something to be proud of to put on my CV’. Many continue to use the archive in their work or leisure time. 
A particularly successful part of the project was the Youth Archive project run by the University’s Youth and Community team; it brought fresh perspectives to the challenge of including young people in archives in a meaningful way and has led to a series of linked events starting with a ‘Pop Up Parliament’ event in autumn 2014.
The award, from the Archives and Records Association (UK & Ireland) and sector partners, recognises work involving volunteers within an institutional archive service. 
The judges were unanimous in giving the award to St Mark and St John Plymouth. They praised the innovative involvement of the University’s students with the project and noted how the project had had a real and positive impact on the University’s relationship with the wider community in Plymouth. 
Gil Fewings from the Archive led the project, working closely with Gill Stringer of Volunteer Guild Plymouth and Faye Hatherley-Edwin who organised student volunteering on campus. The Young People’s Archive was run with Southway Youth Centre and Christine Smith of Marjons Youth and Community Team. 
Gil says:  ‘‘Connections are what bring archives and people alive. Through this project we’ve connected people with knowledge, heritage, creativity, employability and each other – with benefits to all involved. We’ve all worked together, been out of our comfort zones and learned a lot in the process. It’s been invaluable in exploring what makes people want to – or not want to – come to an archive (all those people who love Downton Abbey and yet never set foot in their nearest Record Office?) Though our volunteers may not have learned HOW to archive, they’ve certainly discovered WHY – to find inspiring information, keep it safe for the future and most importantly, take joy in sharing it’. 
This is the fifth year of the national award. Previous winners are: Hull History Centre in 2013; Wolverhampton City Archives in 2012; Manchester Chinese Archive in 2011; and Suffolk Record Office in 2010.
Chair of the ARA, David Mander, says: ‘The archives sector owes a great debt to the thousands of volunteers who give their time and skills to help archive staff deliver more of the collection to growing numbers of users. All five winners of the Volunteering Award from 2010 to 2015 have shown what can happen when volunteers work with archives professionals: the archive gains, but so do the volunteers. It is humbling to see what everyone involved at St Mark and St John Plymouth have achieved this year and what other teams have achieved before them’. 
The photograph shows left to right: University of St Mark and St John Vice Chancellor Professor Cara Aitchison, David Mander OBE, Chair of the Archives and Records and Association who presented the award, former student volunteer (now graduate) Agata Czacza (holding the certificate), David Allen, Archivist Gil Fewings, D Wood (holding the award) and Ron Deakin. The photograph was taken by Mark Bryant, another ‘Connected Catalogue’ volunteer. 
For more information about the annual Volunteering award, and to read the other submissions for the 2014 award, click here