Masters students Tom Bacon and Eilish Peters got involved in the project through the Department of History’s MA placement scheme. Between them they have interviewed around 40 volunteers from local voluntary and community groups.
Tom explained the aim of the interviews: “We wanted to find out about the skills which they had brought to volunteering, the skills they gained from it, why they thought their work was important and whether they understood the big picture impact of their work.
“I have learned that anyone can volunteer. It doesn’t matter what you did previously or what your skills are, there is a role for everyone and everyone’s contribution is appreciated.”
The oral history project was coordinated by Louise Willsher, Head of Projects at Community360, who graduated from the University with a BA History in 2003 and an MA History in 2005.
Louise said: “We pledged to promote the role of the voluntary and community sector and to begin to build an archive of information. The oral histories collected by Tom and Eilish are a first step towards this and recognise the role the sector can play in people’s lives locally.”
The volunteers who took part work in heritage services, in charity shops, and with older or disadvantaged people. Their testimonies will be used to create an archive on the history of volunteers, raising the profile of the contributions they make.
Tom, who is writing his dissertation on his placement experiences, is hoping the skills he has picked up will help him secure his dream job in the competitive museums and heritage sector: “I’ve picked up a lot of transferable skills, such as budget management, communication and time management skills, and a greater understanding of the world of work which will be invaluable in job applications and future roles.”
Eilish, who is hoping to train as a journalist after completing her MA, added: “The interview skills that I gained were very useful. Being able to go out and meet people and find out about their experiences was useful. Furthermore, being able to analyse the interviews to look for any themes was a valuable skill I was able to develop.”
Dr Alix Green, from the Department of History, stressed the importance of building local connections through student placements: “Our department has a long-standing commitment to local history so I'm delighted we have been able to add MA student placements to our work with the Colchester community. Essex is a global university – a ‘world in one place - but it also has deep local roots and we are always looking to explore those connections.”
Previous placements saw history students help the local NHS Trust mark the closure of Essex County Hospital.