Hail the volunteer
Many of us rely on tourist offices to collect information about local attractions, accommodation and other things to see and do. It is widely known that some tourist offices are staffed by volunteers rather than paid staff.
It follows on from the tradition in bodies like the National Trust who make great use of volunteers but it was only yesterday that it was brought home to me actually how many people we should be thankful for to help keep heritage sites open.
Dan Jarvis, the MP for Barnsley Central, asked the government how many people volunteered to help in the heritage sector and was told that in 2011/12 some 884,000 people volunteered to work in the arts. In museums, there were 140,000 people and in heritage organisations, some 556,000 volunteers. These are huge numbers, numbers which reveal just how many organisations must stay open – only due to volunteer staffing -to help us enjoy and appreciate them. Without all these people, I cannot believe that some wouldn’t have to close.
Many, if not the majority, probably act as guides. Many will also be of retirement age who look forward to a few hours a week doing something they obviously enjoy. Most are probably not the equivalent of full time jobs.
We rely heavily on unpaid help to keep things open. To take 884,000 off the employment figures would be very welcome particularly since youth unemployment is so high. But obviously these bodies cannot afford to pay them. Or can they? Could more apprenticeships be introduced so that we build a skilled workforce for the future? Are all these volunteer positions? Have some organisations taken the advantage of the volunteer instinct to replace paid staff with volunteers so that money can be used elsewhere? And, if so, is that use of money justified?
Personally, I applaud the help, the contribution and the efforts of volunteers. I know there would be fewer places for me to visit without their efforts. The enthusiasm of the volunteer probably means they know more about the places in which they are a guide than many paid staff who see their work as just a job. But I do wonder just how much of our tourism business is planned on only having a volunteer workforce.