Volunteer engagement during lockdown

When we closed our doors at Tate in March, the Volunteers Team immediately made keeping volunteers supported and connected our top priority. The result has been some fantastic volunteer engagement with positive feedback pouring in from volunteers – ‘I’ve never felt so connected in my life’ said one volunteer.  

Tate has close to 400 volunteers involved in front of house activities – welcoming visitors and leading our brilliant free guided tours. Some have been volunteering with us for 10, 20, 30 even 40 years and all are incredibly enthusiastic and passionate about their involvement in the gallery spaces.  So, what to do whilst those gallery spaces were closed?  

Within just a few weeks of closure, we had set up virtual volunteer sessions with volunteers giving talks about Art to other volunteers – from 10 minute talks through to one hour presentations.  These talks have proved immensely popular with up to 98 participants per session.  We’ve run two talks per week and now have talks booked in through into June.  We had to support a number of volunteers over the phone with technology in order for them to join the talks but this effort was more than worthwhile as volunteers were clearly over the moon to have cracked the tech and to join sessions and ‘see’ other volunteers online.

The Volunteers Team also identified volunteers who are particularly isolated or vulnerable who we felt might appreciate regular support calls and these calls have been greatly appreciated.  We wrote some  ‘weekly chat guidelines for staff and volunteers’ to clarify the purpose of the calls as being to connect with each other and reduce feelings of isolation; to lift spirits and share suggestions of things to do.  We explained calls were not to offer advice e.g. on finances, housing or personal matters and ensured all parties knew who to contact if they felt uncomfortable or concerned at any time.

One of the team had another great idea, setting up an Instagram for the volunteers to share their art works with each other and this has proved very popular.  It’s been great to see the creativity and talents shared in recent weeks. 

On top of this, we’ve kept up with all communications via email and sent out our weekly updates as usual every Friday packed with updates and lots of great links to Art programmes, articles and events that volunteers can watch, listen to, explore or read.

Our next challenge at Tate will be how to involve all our engaged and enthusiastic volunteers safely once we re-open.  Our volunteers cannot wait to get back to volunteering at the galleries so now we are beginning to explore what that will look like as part of our re-opening plans.

Meantime, we are all excited about this week’s talks on Zoom – 114 booked on so far! 


Jo joined Tate as Senior Volunteers Manager 6 months ago following over 30 years working with volunteers in the Charity sector. From 2015-2019, she was Head of Volunteering at Whizz-Kidz, a national charity supporting young wheelchair users. Prior to this, Jo managed international volunteer programmes at VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas) and is still involved as a volunteer running the VSO London Action Group. Jo is a passionate advocate for the value of volunteering.