Removing barriers to volunteering for women with protected characteristics

In this case study, discover how Glasgow Women’s Library (GWL) is involving women with protected characteristics by prioritising their volunteer applications and removing barriers to volunteering.

By Gabrielle Macbeth, Volunteer Coordinator at GWL

What volunteer roles do you recruit for?

Our volunteers are involved in most aspects of our work, including:

  • Caring for and highlighting the museum, archive and lending library collections
  • Supporting the planning and delivery of events and exhibitions
  • Helping with social media and blogging
  • Doing admin and front of house roles
  • Making women’s history and contributions more visible.
Why does your organisation involve volunteers?

Volunteers have always been at the heart of our work. The organisation was set up and run by volunteers for the first five years, and volunteers have continued to be involved ever since. Not only do volunteers increase our capacity, they bring valuable perspectives and fresh ideas. The volunteer programme also plays a pivotal role in sharing ownership of the organisation, and in ensuring our work responds to and reflects the diversity of women’s experiences, interests and lives. The more a diverse range of women can contribute to the organisation’s aims, the more diverse our collections, programme and ultimately audiences will be.

How does your organisation remove barriers to volunteering?

We do a number of things to reduce barriers to volunteering with us. We:

  • Always refund volunteers’ travel.
  • Tailor volunteers’ roles to suit their skills, experience, confidence and interests.
  • Ask volunteers if there is anything we can do to make volunteering easier for them, on the application form and again when we first meet, and do what we can to respond to this.
  • Have very informal first meetings to find out more about volunteers’ motivations and interests.
  • Offer remote volunteering as well as in person volunteering, and a hybrid of both.

Since 2019 we also prioritise applications from women of colour, minority ethnic women, women with disabilities, and women who live in our local area, a neighbourhood with high levels of unemployment, lower incomes, poorer housing, and lower levels of formal educational attainment. This is in line with our organisation-wide Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan, which sets out how we will diversify our team (staff, volunteers and board of trustees) and audiences.

What impact have volunteers made at your organisation?

Volunteers’ contributions make a huge difference and GWL is a richer and more vibrant organisation thanks to volunteers. Visitors regularly comment on the warm welcome provided by volunteers who share their enthusiasm and their interests with visitors. Volunteers are also invaluable in making our collections more accessible: from cataloguing books, to writing book reviews and blogs about specific archive collections, to digitising museum objects, and helping to host events which highlight materials within our care.

Volunteers also make each others’ time at GWL more fun, interesting and exciting. We have volunteers of all ages and backgrounds sharing time together, learning from each other, and often developing friendships.

Volunteer testimonial:

“Volunteering with Glasgow Women’s Library has helped me connect with other women from Glasgow. I have learnt so much about women’s history, and inspired by my time at GWL I’m developing a women’s rights and history course at the women’s centre I manage. GWL brings women together to share our views and life experience, learning from the women that have come before us. I feel encouraged to share my views and opinions and their social media support and presence makes you feel part of something meaningful and life-changing. When I first walked into the archive and saw their vast collection of lesbian history, I was blown away. For the first time I felt seen and understood. I feel included and accepted at GWL, thanks to the gentle encouragement of the staff. The work of the library stays with me every day in everything I do. They help me keep going when the world pushes back.”

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