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Focus On: Fair Work In Action

What does Fair Work mean to you? Our regular spotlight on the priority areas of Scotland’s museums and galleries strategy is back with a focus on interviews with museum sector workers.

In this edition we find out how museum organisations across Scotland are putting Fair Work into practice. It features family-friendly policies at Gairloch Museum, how the team at Dundee Heritage Trust have started their Fair Work journey, and an in-depth interview about volunteering and Fair Work at The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Museum.

An adult with light skin and medium-length grey hair smiles next to a table displaying military costume.

What is the Fair Work priority area?

‘Fair Work’ is work that offers all individuals respect, opportunity, fulfilment, security, and an effective voice. These five areas of Fair Work balance the rights and responsibilities of employers and workers to generate benefits for all.

Fair Work is one of the ten priority areas of Scotland’s museums and galleries strategy. You can read the Fair Work priority area and actions in full here.

For an in-depth introduction to Fair Work, check out our original Focus On: Fair Work blog post. It includes information, advice, and links to resources.

Fair Work and museum volunteers

Emily from our Fair Work internal working group had a chat with Caitlin Meldrum, Audience and Communications Officer at The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Museum, about how they apply the principles of Fair Work to their volunteer workforce.

In this interview, Caitlin speaks about recruitment, responding to feedback, and rewarding volunteers for their vital work.

EMILY: Hi Caitlin, can you tell me a bit about your role and your work with volunteers at The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Museum?

CAITLIN: Hello, thanks for giving me the opportunity to talk about the museum’s fantastic volunteer team. I’ve been part of the team since the summer of 2022: my role incorporates a lot of areas such as visitor enquiries, outreach, tertiary educational organisation placements, social media, and volunteer co-ordination.

I communicate operational updates, rotas, and opportunities to volunteers, and oversee their recruitment and training.

EMILY: How has your museum applied the principles of Fair Work to your volunteer workforce?

CAITLIN: It’s crucial that museums see volunteer management as a team effort, rather than one person’s responsibility.

We’ve produced a fair and welcoming recruitment process which gives candidates access to our policies and has a clear outline of what they can expect from us.

These policies cover topics which are sometimes viewed as uncomfortable, such as reimbursement and grievance procedures. I’m keen from the beginning to show volunteers that these are conversations they can have with us at any stage.

We’ve also made the recruitment process more accessible. We welcome online applications, phone conversations, videos, or letters.

EMILY: And what opportunities are there for volunteers to develop their skills within the museum?

CAITLIN: When volunteers join the museum team, we ask them if there is anything they would like to gain experience in or like to be involved with.

For example, if they’ve indicated they would like to work with school groups, we train them in how to assist with school visits and make sure they are comfortable with the history they may be assisting teaching.

Other training we’ve offered to volunteers includes collections work, handling objects with visitors, Autism awareness, and Blind and Deaf awareness.

An adult with light skin, short blonde hair, glasses, and a military uniform speaks to three children with light skin. The adult is holding a small doll which is dressed as a soldier.
A volunteer engages with young visitors at The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Museum.

EMILY: How much say do volunteers have in decisions that affect their roles and work environments?

CAITLIN: We make our expectations clear when promoting volunteer opportunities, and discuss this at induction meetings. We invite volunteers to provide feedback and encourage conversations on this topic.

We have an anonymous annual volunteer survey which usually asks the same questions but has a focus on something we are looking to change. Last year, it was uniforms: volunteers are provided these uniforms free of charge, and from feedback collected, will now also be provided with fleeces.

I’ve also been able to start a couple of work-from-home volunteers. This is working really well: I have regular online meetings with them, and they’re welcome to visit the museum team at any time. I’m hoping that more work-from-home opportunities will allow more people to get involved.

EMILY: How does your museum recognise and reward the contributions of its volunteers?

CAITLIN: We’ve recently started doing better as our volunteer programme has evolved, but with full transparency, this is something we absolutely need to work on. Volunteers make our work and projects possible, and it’s essential that we recognise this.

I developed certifications that we give out to volunteers if they have worked on a programme or reached a milestone. We are also involved with other organisations, such as Stirlingshire Voluntary Enterprise and Saltire Awards, which allows us to nominate them for bigger accolades.

We have volunteer gatherings throughout the year: my goal is to have more of these, especially as this is something volunteers have asked for.

I’ve also started a blog series which looks at projects that volunteers have done within the museum. My hope is that if a volunteer were to apply for an opportunity in the future, they could use this as evidence.

EMILY: Thanks so much, Caitlin! It’s great to learn how Fair Work is being implemented for your important volunteer workforce, and there are some excellent things here that other organisations can put into effect for both volunteers and paid workers.

Starting your Fair Work journey

⚖️ How can museum organisations put the principles of Fair Work into action? Emma Halford-Forbes, Heritage & Exhibitions Director at Dundee Heritage Trust, shares her experience of the progress they’ve made in recent years.

“We’ve been a Real Living Wage (RLW) employer since 2019. It was an important step change for our organisation, seeing the minimum wage we paid staff go up by almost a third. Our Board has continued to emphasise the importance of being a RLW employer through its annual commitment to the movement, despite financially hard times. We consider it the least we can do for our staff, who are the beating heart of our work.

However, the real impact of the RLW is that our staff costs have increased significantly during a period of financial uncertainty and low visitor figures. For a charity that is 99% funded by our own initiatives, it’s a weighty burden.

In 2023 we formally committed to Fair Work. In addition to a commitment to the Real Living Wage, we engaged with staff by creating a Staff Forum. This meets quarterly and includes discussion on topics such as wellbeing.

The Forum meetings are minuted and actions progressed by management. Actions progressed as a result of these meetings include a staff events calendar, improvements to the induction programme, and training for line managers. On top of 1-2-1s and appraisals, the Staff Forum has been an important and useful addition to how our charity engages with its staff.”

An adult with long blonde hair and their back turned to the camera looks out from a first-floor balcony inside a long hall. The hall has a pointed wooden roof supported by slender white metal pillars.

📢 Staff forums are one way for museums to meet the ‘Effective Voice’ principle of Fair Work. To find out more about Effective Voice, read this guide on the MGS website.

Fair Work and family-friendly workplaces

🧩 Fair Work can make a big difference at small museums and galleries. Corinna Annetts, Curator at Gairloch Museum, describes how family-friendly policies have supported her work and sparked new ideas.

“As a small, independent museum in a tightly-knit community, Fair Work First principles are essential in fostering a fair and equitable work environment.

A key aspect that has been particularly important to us is offering flexible and family-friendly working practices from day one. I joined Gairloch Museum as Curator at the end of last year, and as a parent to a 1.5-year-old son, I’ve directly benefited from this approach.

From the outset, the museum accommodated my need for flexible hours, allowing me to balance my professional responsibilities with my family commitments. Recently, I had to bring my son into the museum galleries for an hour. Watching him interact with our exhibits, particularly the taxidermy, was enlightening. His fascination has inspired us to consider incorporating the taxidermy display into our Early Years activities.

Family-friendly practices create a supportive work environment where staff feel valued and motivated. This approach is crucial in a small community, strengthening personal connections and mutual support.”

Groups of visitors stand and sit around a large tall lighthouse lamp in the middle of a museum gallery. The walls, floor and ceiling of the gallery are all made of grey, unfinished concrete.

📢 To find out more about how Gairloch Museum is implementing Fair Work First, read the Fair Work section of their ‘Our Team’ page.

Find out more

We’re really grateful to Caitlin, Emma, and Corinna for sharing their perspectives on Fair Work. If you’re looking for advice and support on implementing Fair Work at your organisation, please get in touch: our internal working group for Fair Work will be able to help. You can also find links to further resources below.

We hope you enjoyed this edition of Focus On. Next month, we’ll be exploring anti-oppression, inclusive visitor experiences, and how to handle human remains in Focus On: Inclusion In Action.