Forging ahead with youth recruitment

Having a Youth Trustee on the Council of Management has put a completely different light on the work of the Waterworks Museum Hereford. Jill Phillips, Chair of Trustees and Governance Director explains how the Youth Trustee was recruited and how you could do something similar at your museum.  

The Waterworks Museum Hereford is an independent working museum concerned primarily, but not exclusively, with the story of the supply of water for public consumption from earliest habitation to the close of the 20th century.  The Museum is successfully recognised as a specialist museum that brings industrial heritage to life and is wholly run by volunteers.

We’ve recently had a Youth Trustee on the Council of Management and their inspiration to all the volunteers has been phenomenal and made a huge difference in changing attitudes and opinions.

So how did we secure a Youth Trustee? We didn’t actually! The first, Alex Rowe, walked into the museum one day and asked to become a volunteer. The museum Chair at the time recognised that the museum would benefit from a young person’s voice about how the museum was run and it wasn’t long before Alex brought a new dimension to the team. Alex was subsequently nominated and winner of the West Midlands Museum Development Young Volunteer Award in 2019.

Alex was studying to become a Blacksmith at Herefordshire and Ludlow College. This gave the museum a direct route to establish a link with the college. When Alex finished his course and his term of Trustee work, another Blacksmith Apprentice became a volunteer and trustee, Stan Lawler. He is a member of the British Artist Blacksmith Association and has recently planned and led the hosting of members of this association from around the country at the museum, demonstrating forging techniques.

So, what advice can I offer for those seeking younger Trustees?

To me, gaining contacts and building relationships is fundamental. As well as having the link to the Blacksmith Apprentice programme, we have also made a determined effort to engage with local recruitment events and have developed collaborative projects with other colleges in the area such as Hereford Art College and the New Model Institute for Technology and Engineering in Herefordshire. This approach provides benefits for all partners; through discussing various projects that would support student skills development alongside the need or gap in volunteer skills for the museum.

An example being the recent interaction with photography students that wanted to gain experience of audio-visual skills for their career portfolios. These students interviewed and recorded our volunteer engineers with the engines they were responsible for. These fantastic records will be available in the future through online archives as part of our collection.

Seeking out the various post-16 colleges in your area is a good starting point. Be sure to consider what skill set is missing at your museum and identify or audit these as priorities for collaborative work and outline the dual benefits of these to possible contributors. Many universities require work placements and research expenses, and these may well be students in your area.

Finally, recognising that youth trustees are likely only to be on your Board for a short period is important, but we have found the gains immense in that time. Not just internally for the museum, but also in our outreach to other young people and in encouraging and motivating our future engineers and industrial skills base. Stan Lawler spoke about this when he gave a speech as part of our presentation and celebration of receiving the Queens Award for Voluntary Service in October 2022:

“As the youngest volunteer here, I think that what we do best is to keep the doors open for the next generation”.

Jill Phillips, Chair of Trustees and Governance Director, Waterworks Museum Hereford

Pictured: Stan undergoing preventative maintenance work lubricating the 1895 Triple Expansion Engine. Photo taken by Eddie Coventry / Alex Rowe at Waterworks Museum Hereford / Stan presenting his gift to the Lord Lieutenant during the Queens Award for Voluntary Service presentation. Photo taken by Richard Curtis