European Heritage Volunteers has been active in heritage-related volunteering for more than twenty years. Its objective is to establish links between the fields of heritage and volunteering by continuously working to foster a deeper understanding of heritage and volunteering among those active in either field, and by linking the two fields through practical 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 activities that take place at heritage sites. These projects – organised either entirely by European Heritage Volunteers or in partnership with other institutions and organisations – are aimed at professionals as well as at amateurs with no prior skills or heritage-related knowledge. The projects adopt a hands-on approach, instructing volunteers on conservation and restoration practices and techniques, as well as providing training courses in handicrafts, projects for students, volunteer camps and other activities with the intent to educate the participants and to raise awareness in the field of cultural and natural heritage.
Projects take place all over Europe, stretching from Portugal in the West to Armenia in the East, from the North of Russia to the South of Italy. One of the organisation’s main objectives is to organise projects at heritage sites that has traditionally been over-looked or pushed aside in favour of more well-known sites, but that nevertheless have strong tangible or intangible value. European Heritage Volunteers’ holistic approach to heritage maintenance aims to draw the public’s attention to these undervalued heritage sites and to the activities necessary for their conservation, restoration and revitalisation.
Furthermore, European Heritage Volunteers works to enable heritage activists to network throughout Europe – heritage-related initiatives in the field of volunteering for heritage as well as young heritage experts and young heritage reporters – in order to facilitate the exchange of experiences, ideas and best-practice models and to stimulate interaction.
Although the background and subject matter of the various project types and the particular projects that European Heritage Volunteers offers, are highly diverse, they all have one common goal – to combine heritage as the subject with volunteering as the means of engagement, and in doing so to foster a mutual and lasting relationship between the two.