Volunteer-ability: everyone has the right to work!
Eureka! is a vibrant and enjoyable place for both visitors and staff (and I’m speaking from first-hand experience here). We have a team that works efficiently and effectively together to ensure that our visitors have the best possible visit, come rain or shine. The age and abilities of our team varies massively and we work to the strengths of each individual whenever possible. But other adults, particularly those with a disability, can come up against difficultly and challenges when trying to apply for job.
The Department for Work and Pensions (2014) states that “disabled people are significantly less likely to engage in formal volunteering. In 2010 to 2011, 23% of disabled people engaged in formal volunteering at least once a month, compared with 25% of non-disabled people”. That’s why at Eureka! we’re setting out to change that! We already run a successful disability inclusion programme called Access All Areas, which provides activities and services for disabled children ages 3-11 and their families, but we wanted to provide opportunities to engage young adults with severe and complex difficulties, aged 18 and upwards in the world of work.
Thanks to funding from the Association of Children’s Museum nd the Metlife Foundation we were able to launch Volunteer-ability, a pilot project stemming from Access All Areas. We sought to set up a partnership with local, energetic and established day care facility The Next Step Trust, which is specifically designed to meet and enhance the needs of young adults with severe and complex needs. This partnership enabled us to establish an eight week work placement for their day users. We met some of the young adults before the start of the placement to find out more about their needs and abilities.
After the initial meeting we then slowly introduced the volunteers to some of the Eureka! team, allowing them to become familiar with their new work place and become accustomed to some of their new surroundings within the museum. We wanted to ensure that all the placements were ‘person-centred’, meeting the needs and interests of the individuals but also would help them to develop key skills, essential for these young people when taking part in community placements.
After this introductory phase the Eureka! team created a role description setting out duties and responsibilities, before tailoring these to meet the individual needs of each volunteer. For example, one particular responsibility in our All About Me gallery was to interact with members of the public and hand out passports at the beginning of the gallery. Our volunteer’s disability meant that he was unable to hold the passports, so his carer held them and distributed them at the volunteer’s prompting. Such roles and responsibilities are also expected from the front of house Eureka! Enablers, therefore an important aspect of Volunteer-ability was that Eureka!’s expectations of the volunteers were the same as any employee – important expectations such as good behaviour, punctuality, attendance and dress code.
So who were our amazing volunteers?
Since the launch of the pilot scheme in June 2014 we have been joined by four young adults, who worked with us on a weekly basis (one morning a week). Our first pair of volunteers were Dominic and Sam, two very inspiring young men with bags of character. Dominic expressed an interest in our new All About Me gallery, whereas Sam expressed a keen interest in our Gift Shop. We worked closely with The Next Step Trust to design appropriate objectives and also set aside time to interview, prepare and induct the volunteers for their placements. The volunteers were also provided with a Eureka! uniform and name badge and were set off to work on their placement!
One of the key aims of Volunteer-ability was to promote skills such as building social confidence and successful team working. It was clear to see that both Sam and Dominic, with the help of their carers and the Eureka! team, grew in confidence and worked extremely well within a team, but they also grew in independence across the eight weeks. Both were able to successfully fulfill the roles and responsibilities asked of them. They both said how much they loved coming to work at Eureka! and both carers and parents spoke with us at their celebration events to reiterate how much it had benefited Sam and Dominic in terms of confidence, social interaction and fostering a strong work ethic.
Our second set of volunteers were Natalie and Alex, who were also extremely excited to start their new volunteering venture with us! Natalie wanted to be placed within our Gift Shop and Alex in our All About Me gallery. Like with Sam and Dominic, we then set appropriate targets for Natalie and Alex and conducted interviews, inductions and set specific roles and responsibilities.
Both Natalie and Alex thoroughly enjoyed their placement, which was clear to see because of the smiles that they always had on their faces when they were here. Their carers and parents voiced how thrilled they were at the success and clear differences the volunteering had made to both volunteers. At the end of their placements all volunteers were presented with certificates and their achievements were shared with the rest of the Eureka! team.
The team here became very attached to all of the volunteers, who really felt like members of the Eureka! family, and I myself will be visiting The Next Step Trust next year to see the brilliant work they do. The project has been a brave and challenging volunteer programme that recognises the fact that disabled people want to play an active role in society and have much to contribute. Its main aim was to give disabled young adults volunteering opportunities with built-in development milestones that recognise their abilities and potential, not their limitations. We believe that we have achieved that aim, and are really proud of Volunteer-ability.
Looking to the future…
The pilot project will be evaluated and reflections will be made as we look to the future, but it’s safe to say that the project has provided the Eureka! team and Next Step volunteers with experiences and opportunities that they will remember for a long time. I believe that the Volunteer-ability project is a long term vision of integration and has provided opportunities for us to move forward with our Access All Areas project. It has not only benefited the volunteers, but has given the team here a lot to think about and we believe that we have grown as an organisation as a result.