26 March 2013

Outreach workers help people engage with a heritage site who may not normally visit. They encourage diversity and ensure accessibility.

Image: A Wiener Library and Camden Council event featuring traditional Rwandan dancers and musicians from Sawston Community College.
Image: A Wiener Library and Camden Council event featuring traditional Rwandan dancers and musicians from Sawston Community College.

Outreach work involves encouraging groups of people who wouldn’t normally visit a museum, art gallery or heritage site to participate in related learning activities. The job also involves ensuring access for those with a disability or specific needs.

What do outreach workers do?

Outreach workers provide ways for a wide range of people to engage with a heritage site. This could include very young children, teenagers, older people, those with a disability or ethnic community groups.

You may go out into the community to offer workshops and activities related to a heritage site. For example helping a community group trace their roots or create an exhibition to celebrate their ethnicity.

Improving accessibility

Providing resources to make a museum more accessible to visitors with specific needs could be part of your job. For example tactile images for blind people or tours for those with mobility issues.

You may be the lead person for disabled access issues.

You may go out into the community to offer workshops and activities.

Projects to improve access or encourage a diverse range of visitors often need funding. Your job could include submitting bids for funding, such as to the Heritage Lottery Fund. You may need to write reports and evaluate projects to show how the money has been spent.

Outreach projects often involve volunteers as well as paid workers. You may be involved in recruiting and coordinating a team of volunteers.

What is the job like?

You could work in museums, art galleries, heritage sites that are tourist attractions, historic houses, castles, cathedrals, heritage charities or for a heritage organisation such a National Trust, English Heritage or Historic Scotland.

In a smaller museum, gallery or heritage site a learning officer may work with all age groups to provide outreach, informal and formal learning opportunities. 

Outreach workers need to be good at liaising with community groups to set up working partnerships. They need to be able to identify with a wide range of people and their needs and interests.

This job will often involve evening or weekend working.

How do I get into outreach work?

The skills you need include:

  • Good communication skills both written and spoken.
  • Experience of working with the public and being able to relate to people of different ages.
  • Understanding of cultural diversity and access issues.
  • Good networking skills.
  • Creativity to develop resources and innovative learning opportunities.
  • Ability to work independently but also as part of a team.
  • Good IT skills; web design skills are also useful.
  • Good administrative and organisational skills.

Gaining experience through voluntary work is very important to get into this type of work. Look out for opportunities on museum, gallery and heritage websites.

Museums sometimes recruit young volunteers to plan projects to make a heritage site more accessible to young people, such as bringing in performance artists or organising music events.

You may also need experience of working with a range of ages. You could volunteer with a youth or community group or on a play scheme. Or volunteer for a charity for the disabled or work in a care home for the elderly. Do-it is a useful website to find volunteering opportunities.

What training and qualifications do I need?

There is no one set route into this job.

Most outreach workers have a degree. This could be in a subject that links well with museums, art galleries or heritage sites, such as history, archaeology, fine art or art history.

A degree in museums, heritage or cultural studies or youth and community work would also be useful.  

Postgraduate qualifications are also available in museum, art gallery and heritage education and in youth and community work.

Teaching qualifications may be required or preferred for some outreach roles.

Apprenticeships in cultural and heritage venue operations may include opportunities to work as a museum assistant in a learning team. 

What can I earn?

You may be able to start as a learning assistant earning around £16,000 to £20,000. Outreach officers start on around £19,000 to £23,500, rising to £26,000 to £35,000 for project leader, management and head of learning positions. 

Many jobs are short-term contracts.

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