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Fun with a duster - volunteering at the East Church, Cromarty

3 February 2017

Today we turn the spotlight to one of the many aspects of volunteering in the heritage sector by taking a look at the work of the Scottish Redundant Churches Trust and life at the East Church, Cromarty.

A new year beginning, and at the East Church, Cromarty (www.eastchurchcromarty.co.uk) we're all looking forward to working together to keep the church clean and open for the thousands of visitors that come to enjoy the building each year. The church came into the care of the Scottish Redundant Churches Trust in 1998, and after many years of hard work by the Trust and the local friends group, underwent extensive conservation work from 2008 to 2011. During the ten years of fundraising community support remained high, with a great sense of pride when the project made it through to the final of the BBC's Restoration Village.

During the three years of conservation work we made sure that the church was regularly opened for tours of the work, had school visits and training days, and wrote a regular newsletter, which was available from several Cromarty shops, the museums, library and website. On completion of the work we had a reopening service, led by minister Willis Jones, and which included the Cromarty Primary School pupils. Everyone was welcome to come along. Making the church freely available for the community to use has been how we've operated ever since.

The same relaxed and welcoming approach is also key to how the friends group works. We keep everything as informal as possible, but with one or two guidelines. We recognise that sometimes people will have time to spare and at other times will be busy. The church opening rota is organised through people volunteering for the weeks that suit them. They can swap if something crops up, and everyone knows that the opening hours can be flexible. We aim for a rough 9 to 5 (an earlier closing in winter), but we're not worried about opening earlier or closing later, whatever fits the volunteer's day.

Cleaning is pretty straight forward too - the first Friday in the month, with coffee and biscuits to follow. There's usually several of us who can make the date, but it will vary who that is.  We're always surprised how enjoyable it is and have regularly commented that we should get our houses cleaned the same way!

It's hard to pinpoint what makes a volunteer group work so smoothly. Pride and interest in the building is certainly part of it, being organised, but relaxed, so that people can volunteer in a way that suits their lives - and without too much pressure - definitely helps. And being willing to tolerate, even to enjoy, one another's foibles is essential. We're all strong individuals, but we all now have a camaraderie through our work for the East Church.

And I'd better not forget to put up a poster for new volunteers in the Post Office this spring - making sure that you keep a group open and welcoming to newcomers is essential.

So ... anybody fancy a turn with the duster?

Caroline Vawdrey 

Have you been inspired to volunteer in the heritage sector?

Scottish Redundant Churches Trust (SRCT) was established in 1996 to preserve and protect nationally important churches no longer required for regular worship. The SRCT works with communities to secure the future of churches through expert conservation and creative regeneration.

The SRCT makes its churches freely accessible to visitors to enjoy and for communities to benefit from. New secular uses and activities sit comfortably alongside occasional worship, making the buildings inclusive places with a valuable social function. This is particularly important in rural places where the church is often the only public gathering place for the community. Some sensitive adaptations may be made to increase use and access, but protecting the historic character and significance of the churches is paramount.

The SRCT's seven churches are cared for by groups of local volunteers. Carrying out essential day-to-day tasks such as opening and closing the church, welcoming visitors, cleaning, organizing events and activities, and basic maintenance, these volunteers are the life-blood of the SRCT and sustain the connection between people and place.  

Trust director Victoria Collison-Owen paid tribute to the organization's many volunteers: "Whether at the East Church, or any of our other churches, the SRCT couldn't operate without the amazing support we get from local people who give their time and energy so that the community - and visitors - can enjoy the churches we care for."