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How bad is the volunteer crisis?

Discussion in 'Heritage Railways & Centres in the UK' started by Tim Light, Nov 22, 2016.

  1. michaelh

    michaelh Part of the furniture

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    The approach on the other side of the world:

    http://puffingbilly.com.au/en/volunteer/
     
  2. Wenlock

    Wenlock Well-Known Member Friend

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    Why is there no longer woodwork and metalwork? I never got to use the machine shop, but I certainly learned the basics of the hand tools. (Not that I've often used them over the last forty years.)
     
  3. Chris86

    Chris86 Member

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    No I do not currently volunteer
    In terms of the schooling;

    My experience was that we were actively discouraged from taking the design type elements at school- indeed they did not run an 'A' Level in any of DT subjects except electronics. I did an evening class in welding and fabrication at a college in Wigston, who have also now got rid of these facilities!

    The school DT block had welding booths and equipment that we were not allowed to use- there was apparently a lathe somewhere as well but I never saw it! (according to our design teacher, not enough interest and also the school was no longer happy to have the high risk/hot works on site on Health and Safety grounds....).

    In my job we install flood warning and river flow monitoring equipment, and each year we take on a handful of staff, generally graduates. Its pretty scary how few of them are able to even do simple 'engineering' tasks- I recently had to show one of the new starters how to hold a hammer correctly....

    In terms of me volunteering, I would love to be able to spend some time volunteering, and indeed I have previously and absolutely loved it but at the moment my time is spent at work- I end up working very long hours during the week which unfortunately displaces all those tasks that I could do in the evenings to the weekend, leaving me usually with a Sunday to spend time with my wife!

    I don't think this is untypical of folk my age (30 ish), certainly my peers all have significant pressures on their 'free' time, so hobbies sadly fall a long way down the list. I think that there may well end up being a 'gap' in the age profile of volunteers in the future as a result of this and that its highly likely that railways will end up having to become more reliant on paid labour.

    If this did indeed become the case I would happily chuck my current job in and be at the front of the queue- it would be a brilliant situation to do a job that I would be interested in and enjoy rather than be in my current situation where my job is simply an exchange of money for labour........

    Maybe if I can find a better job,with more sociable hours/better pay so I did not need to do so many hours things would change- but unfortunately until then I am unlikely to be able to contribute to the volunteer effort.



    Chris
     
  4. GWR Man.

    GWR Man. Well-Known Member

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    The thing is these days the schools think cnc/laser cutters can do everything so they are taught the computer programs and not the hand on skills like our days.
     
  5. flying scotsman123

    flying scotsman123 Resident of Nat Pres

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    As I said, in my experience both are done, reflecting how the world has moved on with new technologies, without leaving the old behind entirely.
     
  6. David R

    David R Well-Known Member

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    They have been subsumed into Design Technology (Resiatsant Materials) which incorporates designing and making things in a variety of materials - including wood and metal but alos including plastics. So a wider sylabus

    David R
     
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  7. 85Merlin

    85Merlin New Member

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    Over here the RPSI gave it's youth team a project that was entirely their responsibility. It was the refurbishment from near derelict condition of an ex GNR I brake van (nicknamed Ivan , from GNRI van). This was completed to such a standard that it won an award. Since then, the team has got involved in initial work on 131 and on the Guinness engine. Some of the initial group have gone on to full time employment in heritage centres on the mainland.
    Ian
     
  8. ghost

    ghost Part of the furniture

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    And a fantastic job they made of IVAN too! I don't think 131 would have been completed yet if it wasn't for the youth team and 3BG is the perfect loco for Whitehead train rides. It just shows that if you give a group a project that they can call their own and give them a guiding hand rather than stand over their shoulders all the time, great results can be achieved.


    Keith
     
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  9. Matt37401

    Matt37401 Resident of Nat Pres

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    I've just been going through a few things and I found a clip from BBC London/South East about trying to recruit more (younger!) volunteers for Clan Line. Without sounding like I'm having a go at the MNLPS because I'm not, I think they're doing a superb job looking after 35028, but (Here it is) how can you ask for youngsters to get involved when your loco is kept in a pretty inaccessible place and they can't really get up close to it and have a look round it and maybe be allowed to drive or fire it as you could on say a members day on somewhere like the Mid Hants or the Bluebell. As I say I'm don't want to sound like I'm knocking the MNLPS but it seems to me you can't have it both ways and say 'we need you' then the most you'll see is it from a platform end at Victoria. Oh lords here we go!
     
  10. Steve1015

    Steve1015 Member

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    Well on my duties yesterday there were 4 cleaners, who have joined up in last 6months, who were on duty.
    And I know of another one starting soon too.

    On top of that I often see members of staff who I haven't seen before.

    What is the secret?
    Friendly, sociable, busy, no demarcation (steam v diesel), all staff get on ..well just about lol, It has been know for drivers / fireman / cleaners to go and have a pint (or 2) together.
    I know of at least one railway where drivers will go in pub A, fireman in pub B and cleaners in pub C.
    Also welcoming of guests and make them feel wanted. I recall going to railway X as loco rep and at end of day everyone just fXXXed off......I was Billy no mates sat in the pub eating my dinner until a Nat Pres member turned up.
    Everyone buys into the idea of the railway and works for the greater good.
     
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  11. Forestpines

    Forestpines Well-Known Member

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    The attitude of volunteers towards each other may well be one of the biggest influences on retention of new volunteers.

    I recall shortly after I had started volunteering at my current line, being very rudely and aggressively shouted at by another volunteer for parking in the staff parking area without having a staff parking pass on display. Although I was stood at the door of my department's office at the time, he refused to believe I was a volunteer, and repeatedly demanded that I go with him to see the Station Master to explain myself. I refused, saying that instead he could come inside to my department if he wished to see that I was a genuine volunteer. Eventually, after I had done some emollient grumbling about the speed of issue of parking passes he backed down, and - as I don't regularly volunteer at that station - I've never seen him again.

    Now, I was in the middle of a training course that I'd waited 18 months to start, so I didn't let it stop me. However if I had been volunteering in a more casual role - by which I mean one without a formal training requirement, waiting list or required outlay - or if he was someone I was expected to have to work alongside, it easily might have left me thinking: "why do I bother?" and finding a different line or a different hobby.

    That was, also, the only time I have experienced anything like that: everyone else has been very friendly without fail.
     
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  12. Greenway

    Greenway Part of the furniture

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    Car parking seems to often bring the worst out in some people, especially if they wear a cap it seems. ;)

    I visited a railway once which has a cafeteria and shop in the entrance to one of their stations. I knew the cafeteria/shop owner as I had bought models from him when he had a good market stall in another nearby market town. I wanted some models - which he might have to order - but not being certain he was there I parked by his establishment. The railway car park was a little distance away but as I was passing by, so as to speak, did not want to waste time.
    I was soon challenged by someone about the parking space so I decided to leave. The guy never got his order and I have never visited the line since but do pass by it from time to time. Curiously I had been a volunteer on that line, in its early days, before the young man was probably born!
     
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  13. pete d

    pete d New Member

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    I had five great years as support crew with 5029, which I gave up when I relocated and started a young family, I am about to tentatively step back towards volunteering at a railway not to far away. I am fairly realistic about my ambitions as I only really can spare one day a month so I will probably look at something different rather then the loco dept
     
  14. paulhitch

    paulhitch Guest

    This goes a bit further than volunteer recruitment so (?for once) a bit of thread drift seems in order. Even if these individuals assumed that the car drivers were members of the general public, this was no excuse for dealing with the issue aggressively. Car parking infringements are hardly "safety critical" situations where a bit of forceful language can be justified if injury or fatality is a possibility. Some re-training seems required and I would have hoped the message was passed on, if only in abstract.

    Paul H
     
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  15. Bean-counter

    Bean-counter Part of the furniture

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    Sadly, I fear that anyone involved in any volunteer organisation would not be totally in a position of being able to 'cast the first stone' when it comes to attitude to fellow volunteers, as it is a complex area of human relationships and hence we have almost certainly all 'sinned' in some way at some time.

    A content group of volunteers can find new people a threat to their group, or simply their ability to do their hobby as they want to - if everyone just gets a nice number of 'turns' or is doing a job they like and someone new comes along, then they can be seen as a threat to displace one of the existing team. It can cut both ways - a new person can be welcomed with open arms because it gives an existing person the chance to move on to try something new they've been wanting to do for ages but couldn't due to existing commitments (I have seen that happen and arguably it the end result was not only 2 fulfilled volunteers with over 60 years service between them but both finding new life partners with whom they were very happy as well!)

    On the other hand, you can get newcomers who come in take over, telling everyone else how everything is wrong and must be changed, and they will put it right and goodness knows how anything survived this long given what obvious idiots (i.e. the people who are supposed to be the newcomer's colleagues!) had been in charge! At the same time, there are those who will cling to 'how we have always done it' and lots of 'not invented here' (or 'don't tell me what this new idea is, just whose idea it is and I will tell you whether I support it not'!).

    It is all a matter of 'give and take' and compromise - but, as I said at the start, it is a question of 'human relationships' and these are some of the basics on which any of these work - or don't! Perhaps railway enthusiasm attracts some people who have more difficulty than most at forming viable relationships with others, but I suspect not really - any volunteer organisation can see those who can't understand why their paid employers have never given them chance to exercise their full abilities, so offer to do so as volunteers to an organisation desperate for people to undertake vital tasks, proceed to prove what excellent judgement their paid employers have and then resort of politics to avoid the consequences! Politics and who is in whose 'gang' can end up affecting every level of an organisation - I have heard of people leave a railway after being told who they should or shouldn't 'be friends with' or others told to leave positions that it was generally agreed they had been performing well for some years because someone else appeared unwilling to work with them or they didn't like things that were being done.

    It all makes you wonder just how much any 'volunteer crisis' is of an organisation's own making - being part of a Railway is like being part of anything else - the 'being part of' is a major reason why people do it. Clearly, they will have some relevant interest or shared belief but feeling 'wanted' and 'at home' are very important, and are any of us absolutely as good as we could be at trying to make sure this happens, or can we all identify where 'faces don't fit' and people are 'encouraged' to leave?

    Steven
     
    Last edited: Nov 28, 2016
  16. Steve B

    Steve B Well-Known Member

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    When I was a teenager I volunteered very happily on the Bluebell, and have fond memories from that time. Then left I home, went to college, got married, had several children, worked in jobs on a low income for years, which left little time for anything other than survival, and certainly no opportunity for spending time volunteering.

    Later on, children having left home, I considered volunteering on one or other of the several railways in the area we now live in. I thought of giving my support to one of the smaller groups. Having paid a couple of visits and had a good reception from a member of the train crew that day (who I later discovered was the chairman) I was seriously contemplating joining up and getting stuck in. Then at a special event they were running I happened to be passing on my way home and stopped to take a photo - no time for anything else. For my efforts I got an earful from one of the volunteers, even though I was doing nothing I hadn't done before (along with many others) with the full acceptance of those running the show. I took the view that I got enough stress in my day job for which I was paid, and could do without it when I'm giving my time freely. So I walked away and didn't join up or volunteer. Now my circumstances have changed again and I no longer realistically have the time to volunteer anywhere. If I had started to volunteer then, I would probably still be doing so, but instead the time has been filled with other things.

    As has been mentioned already, politeness and a reasonable attitude are key - not just in keeping volunteers, but in recruiting them in the first place.

    Steve B
     
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  17. Steve1015

    Steve1015 Member

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    Is there actually a volunteer crisis?
    Is it not really a case of the survival of the fittest?

    If your railway is constantly short of staff it is either they are trying too much or you are not good enough to attract volunteers.
    You are not going to get volunteers just for the sake of it. They have to be motivated by X,Y and Z to give up their time.
    When was at college I spent 2 very good and enjoyable years on the Strathspey and if I didn't leave the other end of the country I would love to still volunteer.
    What made me stay there for 2 years is that I was made very welcome (even though I come from south of the border), was made to feel part of the "team" and was able to contribute.
    Oh and the evening socials either in Aviemore or the Boat will remain in my memory for many many years..... So to the guys and girls at Strathspey ..thank you.
     
  18. threelinkdave

    threelinkdave Well-Known Member

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    One of the issues with recruitment is in safety critical roles. Some prospective candidates for guard have little appreciation for what the job entails. Wear a uniform and wave a flag - looks easy peasy. They then find out the reality. Lifting and dropping buckeyes and coupling/uncoupling. Handling screw couplings - they are heavier than you think struggling with vac bags and steam heat. Climbing up to stock from ground level. The physicality of the job is often not understood

    Then there is the safety critical side and the rule book to learn. You are expected to observe all signals - at a three year refresher on the rules - describe all the signals between Kidder and Bridgnorth was one question

    There is quite a level of attrition at each stage as candidates realise it can be hard work and you have similar responsibilitirs to the driver but without the perceived glamour. This may be the reason why many railways are short of guards
     
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  19. Stan loco

    Stan loco New Member

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    Yes absolutely right.

    Wise words.
     
  20. paulhitch

    paulhitch Guest

    Just a question. Do S.V.R. guards routinely couple and uncouple trains each and every day or is it just a question of "may have to if necessary"? Surely that is what the (already dirty) fireman is for. Otherwise concur.

    PH
     
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