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04 June 2018

Hazel Courtley of Palace House, National Heritage Centre in Newmarket talks about the invaluable role played by volunteers at the new centre.

My role is Community Engagement Manager at Palace House. If you haven’t visited yet it’s a historic five-acre site in the middle of Newmarket offering three attractions in one: the National Horseracing Museum, a National Art Gallery of British Sporting Art, and a chance to meet former racehorses, in the flagship yard of Retraining of Racehorses.

The Centre was officially opened by our patron Her Majesty The Queen in November 2016 but my role started two years before previously. My remit was to develop volunteering opportunities that would involve the local community in the setting-up and running of the Heritage Centre. The first challenge was to pack up over 10,000 objects to be moved from the old museum to the new site. Nearly 40 people responded to our call for help and, with training from our Conservator, worked in teams to pack everything from silks to paintings to veterinary equipment.

From the start our main aim in involving volunteers was one of ‘mutual benefit’. The benefit to us was clear – much needed extra capacity and stronger links with the local community. But what was in it for our volunteers? We asked them and they came up with a long list of benefits but the key ones were meeting new people, learning something new and being part of a new and worthwhile development in the town.

‘I love coming to the museum and look forward to it immensely. I never know what we will discover or learn, or the interesting people I will meet,” said one volunteer.

In the run-up to opening the new heritage centre we recruited a further 50 volunteers and now have over 80 helping out around the site. They are doing everything from welcoming visitors; giving talks and tours; caring for horses; helping with learning activities; cataloguing objects and gardening. We have also worked with organisations such as William Hill and RAF Lakenheath on one-off volunteering projects.

In 2017, we were shortlisted for the national Museum of the Year Award alongside Tate Modern, London and The Hepworth Wakefield who pipped us to the post. Later that year we were delighted to win Suffolk Museum of the Year and a regional SHARE Museums East award for volunteer management. It was a fantastic way to say ‘thank you’ to all of our amazing volunteers who had given their time, enthusiasm and support to make the Heritage Centre a success.

So far over 200 people have taken part in volunteering activities but we’re still recruiting! It’s great to have the Racing Together Do-It for Horseracing website to raise awareness of the Heritage Centre and the volunteer opportunities we offer. If you would like to know more you can find us there or at:
Do please get Involved.

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