This is a ‘how to recruit, manage and support volunteers’ guide produced as part of the Digital Skills for Heritage’s Digital Volunteering programme.
The Coleshill Auxiliary Research Team (CART) are a group of volunteer researchers and supporters who investigate and record the World War II Auxiliary Units. The units were a secret resistance network of trained volunteers prepared to be Britain’s last line of defence in case of a German invasion. Although named for Coleshill House, the training headquarters for Auxiliary Units, CART is a widely dispersed group of volunteers, spread throughout coastal England, Wales and Scotland. Findings are published on the British Resistance Archive website our main platform.
This project created 360-degree virtual tours of the underground Operational Bases and other structures used by the Auxiliary Units. The aim was to generate new and wider understandings of the structures used by the WW2 Auxiliary Units and to work with volunteers to digitally capture many of the remaining sites (around 900) in various states of preservation.
A core group of six CART volunteers lead the project with key partners: Keele University who provided training packages for the 360-degree cameras and Thinglink tour creation. VCS websites, who provided tools to simplify the addition of the completed tours to the website along with Welsh translated pages
We targeted engaging younger adult volunteers (aged 20-50) with an interest in the subject. It was crucial they were willing to commit to completing training prior to receiving digital equipment from the project team. We recruited listeners to the We Have Ways Podcast (popular podcast focused on WW2 history) through our social media and we also recruited via word of mouth through our current volunteer network.
Volunteers were supported with how to guides, online Zoom get-togethers on two occasions and email encouragement and offers of support. Access to expert support was provided by the Keele University technician to all volunteers.
Volunteers created 360 images using Ricoh Theta SC2 cameras, with associated tripods and lighting equipment. Volunteers also took photos, videos and other media on their own phones to form part of the tours.
We communicated with group meetings via Zoom and Google Meet, as well as by group emails, with volunteers giving permission to share email addresses to communicate freely with each other.
The media material was processed into virtual tours using Thinglink software. During the project we found we could also add 3D images of objects using Thinglink. We cooperated with another group to learn about this and experimented with free software to add relevant content.
We also found that we could caption historic photos using the Thinglink software using these to link between website pages on our website as well as providing interactive captions.
1. Staff recruitment
The Project was run by volunteers. The only paid element was the website development and the production of the Thinglink training package and associated technical support. A Steering Group met monthly consisting of lead volunteers and Keele University representative.
2. Digital Volunteer recruitment and training
Volunteers were recruited through Facebook/Twitter. They were asked to complete online training prior to receiving any equipment in order to ensure a degree of dedication to the project.
3. Procurement and implementation of technology
The equipment was purchased and posted to volunteers. Some equipment was purchased and sent direct to volunteers.
4. Digital Volunteer management
We held online volunteer meetings to encourage interaction and answer questions. However, we found that some volunteers were keen for in person interaction, despite the stated remote digital nature of the project.
5. Evaluation and development of Guidance and Policy
Additional guidance was developed during the project by volunteers based on their learning and experience. As expected, some volunteers were much more active. A few dropped out entirely without completing any recording.
Working in partnership
Working with an experienced team from Keele University was invaluable in getting the project underway. Their geosciences team helped us overcome any issues with setting up and using the cameras and Thinglink software .
Value in volunteers
Volunteers added value to the project by developing resources and being involved in the steering group. They brought practical advice and ended up writing additional guides for others to follow. By showing what was possible in a short space of time, they inspired others to attempt recordings themselves
Importance of in-person interactions
Even in a remote training digital project, volunteers were keen for face-to-face interactions and to meet and visit heritage sites together in small groups. While the advance training could be done remotely, in-person activity brought a social element to the project.
There is a risk that volunteers would take expensive equipment and then disappear. Though this has not happened in practice.
Allow more time for the completion of tasks and for volunteer drop outs
For a variety of reasons some volunteers were unable to complete activities to the project schedule. They had good intentions and appeared keen. The plan needed to allow for a certain proportion to drop out or deliver at a different pace.
Have a realistic timescale for access to specialist software
The Thinglink editing software was expensive and we realised we needed access for a longer period than initially expected for it to be more sustainable and incorporate improvements in the design of tours as the project developed and over their online life.
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Please attribute as: "Recording and editing 360-degree virtual tours (2023) by Coleshill Auxiliary Research Team (CART) supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, licensed under CC BY 4.0