Opening doors through volunteering: a graduate’s perspective

If you fall into the 16-24 age bracket, you may be looking for some relevant work experience while studying. Whether you do a museum studies course or want to go into event management, have you thought of getting involved with one of the thousands of organisations and places that take part in Heritage Open Days?

© Maggie Tan - Maggie with the Heritage Open Days team at their annual tea party

I’ve just finished an internship with the Norwich Heritage, Economic and Regeneration Trust (Norwich HEART), an experience I wouldn’t want to have missed for the world.

My volunteer journey

My first taste of volunteering for Norwich HEART came about in September 2010 as a Heritage Open Days steward at a couple of medieval churches. I enjoyed sharing historical facts with visitors in the sunshine but remember wanting to do more. So I returned to the trust and was offered the chance to work on the evaluation of the 2010 events.

Having little work experience in the non-profit sector, I was keen to utilize the skills I was developing as a History of Art and Literature student at the University of East Anglia. I took on the opportunity to work on the evaluation of the Norwich Dragon Festival in 2011 and was glad to sample working life in a charitable organization whilst I was still a student. I suppose that my great volunteering experience thus far was a major factor in deciding to take up the Heritage Open Days 2012 Assistant internship.

My role

I found my internship to be inspiring and I really enjoyed coordinating a programme of 216 events for the general public. I was given the chance to take control of a project; I had to research and register new events, assist with the preparation and distribution of brochures, recruit volunteers from all walks of life, develop the visitor feedback survey and local business questionnaire, plan a route for the official Heritage Open Days 2012 short film all the while gaining experience and useful contacts.

My line manager Sophie Cabot, who sits on the national Heritage Open Days Advisory Group, also took me along to the group’s meetings in London, which gave me the bigger picture of the event and some more strategic insights. And my application to join the Heritage Open Days blogger team was successful too. It’s been great fun to share experiences and highlights from Norwich with a wider audience.

Looking back on the past year, here are some of the lessons I reckon I could share with you!

Some general tips

1) Before you commit to an internship, it is very important that you choose the right one for you. By that, I simply mean that you should know what you wish to take away from it, as it should be a mutually beneficial arrangement. This is an opportunity for you to gain some valuable work experience while the company benefits from your skills and knowledge. Not everyone has a great internship experience so do take the time to research who you’d like to work for and what skills you’d like to develop. Choose something you’re passionate about but also keep in mind that a transferable skill set will take you further than you might think!

2) Always ask questions - it’s part of the learning process and when in doubt, take notes so you can refer back to them later when things get hectic. You are never too old to learn and new challenges (as well as new solutions) will help you to grow.

3) Take advantage of all the opportunities offered. I was given the chance to go on the Norwich Ambassador Scheme as well as attending the Culture Matters 2012 Conference. At these events, I was able to meet new people from other heritage-related organisations and learn about their careers and countries.

I learned a lot about public relations and marketing and my skills and confidence improved greatly. It therefore gives me great pleasure to share with you the news that approximately 43,000 visitors generated an estimated £200,000 in the local economy by exploring Norwich’s heritage!

If you are interested in volunteering opportunities with Heritage Open Days, please get in touch with the Heritage Open Days team.