Recognising the Contribution of Student Volunteers to the Portable Antiquities Scheme during Student Volunteering Week

Published: 5 years ago Author:

To mark Student Volunteering Week (23rd February - 1st March 2015), the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) has surveyed their student volunteers to find out about their motivations for and experience of volunteering. The survey results highlight the invaluable contribution of student volunteers to the work of the Scheme and the importance of archaeological volunteer opportunities for students' skills development and career prospects.

Now in its fourteenth year, Student Volunteering Week is a national celebration of the achievements and impact of student volunteers in their local communities. The PAS aims to increase opportunities for active public involvement in archaeology, and about 20% of current volunteers combine volunteering with full- or part-time study. In 2014, the Scheme was awarded funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund for a five year initiative called PASt Explorers to expand volunteer capacity and training opportunities. As part of this initiative, an on-line survey of current and recent student volunteers was conducted to find out more about their involvement.

PAS student volunteers can learn to identify and record archaeological artefacts onto the PAS database with their local Finds Liaison Officer (FLO). The survey reveals the extent of other activities that student volunteers also participate in, including photography, photo-editing, excavation of Treasure case sites, attendance of training courses, and assistance at museum finds days and metal-detecting rallies. In answer to what they enjoyed most about volunteering with the PAS, the overwhelming response was that student volunteers enjoyed handling a wide range of artefacts and learning about local material culture, which some felt was lacking at undergraduate degree level. One respondent said, "Volunteering for the PAS has given me experience handling and researching objects that I would not otherwise have had. It has given me opportunities to take part in many different activities, train others and generally allowed me to develop a broad skills set". Most students appear to have heard of the PAS before starting to volunteer but had not used the database and were "surprised at the breadth of work the PAS does through its FLOs and finds experts".

Many of the Finds Liaison Officers across the country are involved in teaching university courses. Lauren Proctor, Finds Liaison Officer for the North East, runs a weekly session on artefact handling and recording for students at the University of Newcastle. The FLO for Sussex, Stephanie Smith, has visited students enrolled in the MA in Artefact Studies at University College London and the PAS has hosted student placements for this course. Most of the respondents were studying for Bachelor's and Master's degrees and studying subjects including Archaeology, Ancient History, History, and Museum and Heritage Studies. Many of them cited work experience as their reason for starting to volunteer with the PAS, but others also began volunteering out of personal interest and for research purposes. The objects recorded by volunteers help to generate new data about the archaeology and history of England and Wales which is then freely available to students to use in their own research. For one respondent, "the experience has opened my eyes to the huge potential value of the PAS for research. I used PAS data for a research project as part of my MA I love the fact that I have helped to record objects which otherwise would be unknown to the general public and to researchers."

The expectations of student volunteers were exceeded in terms of how much they learned, the skills they had gained and their level of enjoyment. All of the respondents said they would recommend volunteering with the PAS to other students. One student said this was because the PAS "offers a unique chance to handle and identify large numbers of archaeological objects, and to understand the data held on the PAS database. The training offered to volunteers is also incredibly valuable."

Of those who had completed their studies, several said that their experience of volunteering with the PAS had helped them to gain employment in their chosen field. One respondent said volunteering with the PAS "helped me to get job interviews, and led to my first paid employment - working in the heritage sector." With sponsorship from the Headley Trust, the PAS has offered numerous internships over the last 6 years, many of which have been taken up by recent graduates with prior volunteering experience with the Scheme.

To find out more about the PASt Explorers volunteer project and how to get involved in the Scheme, please see the webpage here.

Contact: PASt Explorers

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