European Heritage Volunteers works since more than fifteen years in the fields of heritage and volunteering and aims to build bridges between heritage and volunteering, to create understanding between people active in one or the other field, to link both topics by appropriate hands-on projects and educational activities.
Although there seem to be natural links between the engagement for heritage on one side and volunteering as an convenient approach on the other side, both “worlds” are still quite closed, and the number of projects combining heritage and practical hands-on volunteering in a long-term dimension and more than only on a local level are still very rare. From the heritage point of view volunteering is often unjustified associated with unprofessional approach, and for organisations working with volunteers there are more rewarding fields of engagement especially in the social area, and frequently they indeed underestimate the necessity of an absolute professional approach while dealing with heritage.
But – there is a big need for volunteering at heritage sites, and that not only by collecting funds and organising beneficial activities in order to enable the later financing of the conservation of heritage sites, but also by practical hands-on work at the heritage sites themselves. Especially in rural and structural weaker areas the practical engagement of the local population is probably the only possibility to conserve one or the other heritage site, but more than that: Own practical work, own physical engagement creates a grade of identification with a heritage site which otherwise hardly could be succeed.
Especially for young people often hawing grown up far away from really practical work own hands-on engagement is very imprinting and motivating; similar as the inhabitants of rural areas understand while observing the unpaid engagement of young people – partly especially coming from other countries or even other continents – the real value of the cultural or natural heritage in their direct neighbourhood.
Considering all these aspects European Heritage Volunteers organises since many years volunteering and educational projects at cultural heritage sites.
In the last years European Heritage Volunteers – having its professional origin in handcraft and cultural heritage backgrounds – began to extend its activities into cultural landscapes and natural heritage, too, where volunteering had been more widespread since a long time than in the field of cultural heritage. This experience is very inspiring for European Heritage Volunteers – nevertheless European Heritage Volunteers has not succeed yet the same level of experience, of professional knowledge and institutional networking concerning natural heritage as concerning cultural heritage. However, linking volunteering and educational activities for cultural and natural heritage seems to be an important field for further activities of European Heritage Volunteers.
The current programme of volunteering and educational activities at heritage sites, partly organised by European Heritage Volunteers itself and partly in cooperation or in partnership with other institutions and organisations aims both to professionals and to volunteers without heritage-linked skills and includes conservation and restoration activities, training courses in handcraft, projects for students, volunteer camps and other projects providing education and awareness raising in the field of cultural and natural heritage.
Although the backgrounds and the subjects of the particular projects are quite diverse, all projects are characterised by a similar objective – to combine the focus on heritage as the topic with volunteering as the instrument of common engagement.