Surrey Heritage WWII project ‘highly commended’ in national volunteering award

Surrey Heritage has been highly commended in this year’s national Archives & Records Association (ARA) Archive Volunteering Award for its Surrey in the Great War: A County Remembers (SGW) project.  The award aims to recognise and celebrate outstanding work involving volunteers within the archive sector and to promote good practice in volunteering.

Surrey Heritage, part of Surrey County Council, is based at Surrey History Centre (SHC), Woking, and incorporates the county archive service, local studies library, archaeological unit and museums advisory service for Surrey.

The five-year National Lottery Heritage Fund-supported Surrey in the Great War project, which will conclude in August 2020, aims to inspire and bring together the responses of Surrey’s current-day communities to the county’s dramatic role in the First World War. Through a range of volunteer activity, the project explores the war’s impact, particularly on the home front, and reveals the extraordinary contributions of Surrey’s people throughout the conflict.

The project team set out to involve individuals, families and groups from across Surrey and beyond. A particular aim was to engage people who had previously not been involved in heritage. Specific audiences for engagement included students and young people, for example those undertaking Duke of Edinburgh Awards, Muslim communities, and people with learning disabilities. Through its varied programme and opportunities to participate, the project has benefitted from voluntary contributions from all of these audiences and from many others too. The project also wanted to inspire an interest in Surrey’s heritage worldwide via the Surrey in the Great War website (www.surreyinthegreatwar.org.uk). It succeeded in doing this as volunteer participants from across the globe have contributed data and stories.

The project was fortunate to draw together a team of committed volunteers, incorporating over its lifetime 220-plus individuals of varying ages, interests and backgrounds. They have supported the project in many ways, including by researching Surrey’s wartime people, delving into Surrey History Centre’s archives to uncover information, writing articles and biographies for the project website, interviewing Surrey residents about their families’ war, indexing war-related articles in contemporary local newspapers, photographing memorials, giving talks, helping with school workshops and contributing to events.

Kirsty Bennett, Senior Project Officer to Surrey in the Great War: A County Remembers, comments: “We are absolutely delighted that our Surrey in the Great War project was awarded highly commended in this year’s awards. Our volunteers and project staff have been tirelessly enthusiastic throughout the project and we are very proud of what we have accomplished. This public recognition will inspire us all to take the skills and lessons learnt into new projects to share the endless fascination that encounters with the past can provide.”

Explaining why Surrey Heritage was awarded highly commended in the awards, Sally Bevan, Secretary of the ARA’s Volunteer Committee, said: “This was a very strong application. The project made a real impact on the volunteers and staff development.  There were a wide range of volunteer activities for a wide range of ages and a diverse volunteer group, which was well-managed and flexible. The panel really liked the way volunteers were able to contribute to the project and were able to develop their own ideas, such as the oral history element and the mentorship aspect.  The project produced a great online resource and the experiences and skills that staff have learned have had a beneficial impact on the service and will continue to be of value in future projects.”

The Archive Volunteering Award is organised by the Volunteer Committee of ARA and sponsored by the ARA, the National Archives (UK) and sector partners.  The ARA is the lead professional body for archivists, archive conservators and records managers in the United Kingdom and Ireland.  It has more than 2,000 members.

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