Karen Weaver column: Centre promotes unique heritage of area

Volunteers at the Washburn Heritage Centre.
Volunteers at the Washburn Heritage Centre.

A few weeks ago I was asked to submit my picks for the “Five favourite places” feature and reluctantly left out Fewston Reservoir and the wonderful nearby Washburn Heritage Centre. As they were awarded Organisation of the Year at the 2017 Volunteering Oscars I can take this opportunity to highlight the fantastic work they do. They were worthy winners at the Oscars, especially when you consider the other excellent organisations on the shortlist. This included another “favourite place”, the Ripon Museums Trust, who received a well-deserved “highly commended” award in this category.

To win the Organisation of the Year award the winner must demonstrate best practice in volunteer management. The Washburn Heritage Centre was nominated for an award by the local Parish Council who proudly stated: “We feel it has demonstrated in the clearest possible way best practice in volunteer management”.

I was asked to write the citation for the award, which was straightforward as the nominator had included lots of detail to justify their claim. I found it really hard to leave anything out, as there was so much good practice to share, so I now apologise to those who thought it went on a bit at the ceremony (including the winning team itself!). However there is so much to learn from the way this enterprising group have built up the centre since it opened and here’s a little more information on why they were chosen by the Judging Panel.

Situated adjacent to Fewston Church, the centre opened in 2011 and promotes the unique heritage of the Washburn Valley, informs visitors about the area and helps people to understand , influence and contribute to their own heritage. Based in a very rural area, apart from one part time co coordinator and archivist, the centre is run entirely by volunteers and led by a voluntary management committee. Activities include supervised walks, art workshops, courses, special suppers and talks, the hiring of the centre to other organisations, exhibitions about various aspects of the locality, and an extensive historical and pictorial archive about life, people and events in and around the area. There is also a tearoom, which is open every weekend.

A team of about 100 volunteers help to run the activities or assist with IT skills, the website and finances. Every volunteer receives training in the role they play and courses are run on food hygiene, first aid training, IT skills and health and safety. At all events there is a specially trained lead volunteer on duty to ensure that every new volunteer is welcomed and supported by someone more experienced. A volunteer handbook sets out clearly and concisely their responsibilities and duties and everyone is encouraged to raise any matters of concern and to feel a really integral part of the service.

The atmosphere amongst all volunteers is described as “extremely friendly, welcoming and inclusive”. Many speak of the skills they have gained through their work, and the warmth of the camaraderie, and the help they receive from the management committee. A visit is the best way to find out more and you can check the winter opening times via www.washburnvalley.org.

Huge congratulations to everyone at the Washburn Heritage Centre and to all the organisations nominated this year.

For more details on how HARCVS works to support voluntary and community groups, including training please visit www.harcvs.org.uk or follow us on Twitter @harcvs