Internationally-renowned Derbyshire tourist attractions appeal for more volunteers

Victoria Sheldon has joined the team at Strutts North Mill and the Derwent Valley Visitor Centre to help recruit and support the volunteers.
Victoria Sheldon has joined the team at Strutts North Mill and the Derwent Valley Visitor Centre to help recruit and support the volunteers.

If you have time in your life to help a central part of Belper’s heritage and tourist economy thrive, then Victoria Sheldon would love to hear from you.

Victoria, 32, joined Strutt’s North Mill and the Derwent Valley Visitor Centre, in November to help recruit and support the volunteers who are essential to its success.

Victoria Sheldon has joined the team at Strutts North Mill and the Derwent Valley Visitor Centre to help recruit and support the volunteers.

Victoria Sheldon has joined the team at Strutts North Mill and the Derwent Valley Visitor Centre to help recruit and support the volunteers.

She said: “We rely on volunteers in order to open the museum. With only three paid members of staff, it’s very much volunteer-led.

“We have an incredibly good and committed team already, we just don’t have enough of them for everything that we need, and want, to do.”

Holbrook resident Victoria took the role having previously worked for the National Trust at Kedleston Hall.

She said: “My job also involved working with volunteers there, and I came to realise that was the bit I enjoyed the most.

“When the job at the Strutt’s museum came up, I jumped at the chance. It’s such a lovely place to work.”

She added: “I’d been here as a visitor before, and I was struck by how great the volunteers were, how important the building was – but also how lots of people don’t know that much about it.

“It’s a great privilege to be part of such an important site that has been given World Heritage status as the birthplace of the factory system.”

Passing on vital knowledge about the mill’s history is just one of the activities which volunteers take part in.

Victoria said: “If we could get more people to volunteer as receptionists or guides, that would be a massive help.

“We currently have two shifts a day which required at least two people each, fives days a week, so it takes quite a few people to cover it all. It’s getting to the stage where we may have to close some days when we can’t cover a shift.”

She added: “We have about 40 people at the moment. Some want to do once a month, some want to once a week, but not all are front-of- house.

“The more we can get, the more we can do too. We can do more events, school visits, different kinds of tour, we just need the capacity to get those things going.”

The museum is just one of many organisations increasingly forced to rely on volunteer support, as sources of public funding have dried up.

Victoria said: “I think a problem today is that there are so many places to volunteer, and everybody is very busy.

“The classic volunteer age is retirement, but people are doing more baby-sitting and things for their families now.”

Working at the museum does perhaps offer some unique benefits compared with similar roles elsewhere though.

Victoria said: “Some people are put off because they think it would take up too much time, but a shift is only two and a half hours, and as often or as little as you like.

“You would be joining a lovely team too– mostly retired, but also people who work part-time and a few students.”

She added: “Our volunteers typically say they love meeting new people, often from all around the world, and learning new things every day.

“Some volunteers already have an interest in heritage, many are connected to the local history society or Friends of the River Gardens, but it is not essential. All you need is to enjoy working with people and a willingness to learn. “We work closely with other sites along the valley, particularly Cromford Mills, sharing events, trips, training, and social activities, so volunteers get to know each other.

“People love passing on the history of their town, which is so important for tourism and local pride. It gives you a good sense of helping Belper out.”

Open Wednesday to Sunday in peak season, shifts run 11am to 1.30pm, then 1.30-4pm. New volunteers receive full induction training.

- For full details, contact Victoria at admin@belpernorthmill.org.uk or 01773 880474.