What is heritage? At one time, it was purely thought of as historic monuments and artefacts. Today we recognise that buildings and objects need not be ancient or monumental to be valuable — small, everyday buildings and items can also tell an important story or hold major significance.
A broad definition is: Those things from the past which are valued enough today to save for the people of tomorrow.
The “heritage sector” covers museums, historic buildings, archaeology, archives and conservation. Archaeology and archives have separate sections on this site.
A degree in a subject, such as History or Classics and Archaeology can be useful but is by no means essential. Museum collections cover everything from militaria to medicine, from rock music to rowing and from fashion to freemasonry, so there is scope for using a wide range of interests and qualifications. There is a shortage of science graduates in this sector, especially those with a knowledge of the history of science and technology.
The key to getting into this sector – museums, art galleries, historic buildings and conservation – is to gain relevant experience. This must usually be through volunteering, but there are some paid posts available for students and graduates – English Heritage, for example, regularly recruits Seasonal Custodians to work at sites including Dover Castle and St Augustine’s Abbey.
Museum curator is the role that many students will think of first when planning a museum career. Curators acquire, care for, develop, display and interpret objects and collections of historic interest.
Prospects Job Profile: Museum Curator
TARGET Jobs Profile: Museum Exhibition Officer
Other job roles include Heritage Manager, Museum Education Officer, Conservator, Historic Buildings Inspector/Conservation Officer
However, job roles in heritage go far beyond these: museums look for many transferable skills and large museums employ a wide variety of other professionals, including craftspeople, designers, technicians, fundraisers and business people (although in small museums, the curator is also responsible for managing the collection, operations, staff and volunteers and all staff need to be very flexible).
Further information on job roles and careers in museums
- Museum Association
- Museum Jobs in museums world-wide, both paid and voluntary
- Leicester University
- Art Jobster / Creative Jobs in Museums
- Arts Council Museum Jobs
Museums and Other Employers in the Heritage Sector
- English Heritage - job vacancies and volunteer opportunities
- The National Trust - the 70000+ NT volunteers have the same opportunities to train as paid staff so this is a good place to start gaining experience
- The British Museum - volunteering opportunities
- Imperial War Museums - volunteering opportunities
- Victoria & Albert Museum - jobs, volunteering, internships and work experience
- Canterbury Museums and Galleries - jobs vacancies and volunteer opportunities
- Powell-Cotton Museum, Birchington
- Royal Engineers Museum, Gillingham
- Science Museum - job opportunities and volunteering
Nearly all museums and heritage organisations use volunteers to work in all sections of the museum from front-of-house to research, events and exhibitions departments. In recent years, public museums have become increasingly dependent on volunteers to maintain services in the face of funding cuts.
Although this reliance on an unpaid workforce creates challenges for museums, it also provides possibilities for students interested in a career in heritage to gain high-level experience while still at University. While unpaid work experience obviously also creates challenges for students, you can apply for our B-KEW bursary to help with travel expenses.
The links below give a few opportunities, mainly in Kent and London, but you can approach any other individual museums and heritage organisations directly to find out if they need volunteers. Volunteer opportunities in national museums may be the most competitive places to enter, so local and independent museums may be the best place to start.
These include the Beaney House of Art and Knowledge, and Canterbury Roman Museum. Volunteers work on a range of activities including exhibitions, collections, marketing and learning. Many student volunteers have developed valuable experience working within our team, with several acknowledging the experience they have gained as being a significant factor in securing employment.
Canterbury Archaeological Trust
We are constantly on the look-out for volunteers who want to get involved in finds processing, such as washing finds retrieved from ongoing excavations and marking pottery. No specific qualifications are needed - just an interest in archaeology/history.
Offers many volunteering opportunities and occasional internships. It also has paid casual work as “Shepherds” who provide a confident, professional and courteous welcome to all visitors to Canterbury Cathedral. Many Shepherds are students and they actively help to control the many groups visiting the Cathedral and provide services in the pay booths, Welcome Centre and Audiovisual Theatre.
Over 300 volunteers are involved with the Historic Dockyard, caring for the many historic buildings and artefacts, three historic warships and over 170,000 visitors. The Trust is supported by a number of volunteer groups whose activities range from restoring and running the dockyard’s steam railway to carrying out historical research to supporting film crews using the site for the latest large productions.
The Huguenot Museum, Rochester
This museum tells the story of Britain’s first refugees and the impact they have had on this country. It is a small museum and relies on volunteer support to maximise limited resources, and we would like to welcome students who are interested in getting some experience in the heritage industry to apply to join our team. We want to give volunteers the opportunity to experience, learn about and enjoy our collections and our history, and there are many opportunities for volunteers including front of house, stewarding and documenting the collection.
Other museums in Medway
Other parts of Kent
Chiddingstone Castle, near Edenbridge
Recruits volunteers during the summer season as tour guides, room guides and shop assistants.
Fleur de Lys Heritage Centre, Faversham
Local history museum with a range of volunteering opportunities including stewarding; helping ‘behind the scenes’ with collections & archives work or research; entering data onto our computer databases and catalogues and researching and producing historically themed leaflets & booklets.
Actively trying to recruit learning, outreach and social media & marketing volunteers.
We can offer you the chance to gain experience within the museum sector whilst learning and acquiring new skills. Particularly welcome applications from people with a passion for working in the Arts, Heritage and Cultural sectors, and can express this clearly in their application. As well as more specific roles, we can provide a programme of work that offers a broad experience across the museum’s departments, giving a good overview of the different roles of these departments and the skills necessary to work within them.
“We’ve worked with volunteers for over 150 years, enlisting help from our members on a wide range of tasks, from excavation, cataloguing to conservation. We are constantly expanding our volunteer projects: work in the Society Library in Maidstone always requires help and assistance."
Kent Historic Environment Record (HER)
Kent's Historic Environment Record has information on archaeological sites, historic buildings and landscapes, archaeological events and sources. These records are linked to a digital mapping system. We are looking for enthusiastic volunteers to add information to the Historic Environment Record, by working through the reports, comparing them with existing records and either adding information to existing records or creating new ones. Sometimes you'll use aerial photographs, historic maps or other documents too. We provide full training and support so you don't need any previous experience.
Penshurst Place near Tonbridge
Employs seasonal and part time staff for most business areas including visitor events, catering, banqueting & events, visitor services and retail.
Spitfire and Hurricane Museum, Manston
Volunteers are essential to the museum's survival and often the first point of contact for visitors. Roles include running the shop and hosting visitors and booked groups by answering questions or getting them to engage with our collection. A great many specific roles (education, marketing, fundraising, etc.) are also undertaken by volunteers.
“All our staff are volunteers, learning on the job, but with the support of Maidstone Museum and other professionals”. Roles include care and cataloguing of the collection; media and public relations; stewarding and fundraising.
Time2Give: Volunteering with Kent Libraries & Archives
Roles include Community History Buddy, researching local resources to help community history groups, and helping staff work with those groups
Kent County Council is responsible for eight windmills in Kent, preserving and promoting their use for education and tourism. Opportunities include ongoing maintenance from cleaning and decorating to minor repairs; running the mill; working on the reception desk or acting as a guide on open afternoons - Sundays and Bank Holidays from Easter to the end of September plus occasional days during the summer.
White Mill Rural Heritage Centre, Sandwich
Volunteering can be stewarding; helping with maintenance or working 'behind the scenes' to ensure the smooth running of the Centre.
Crabble Corn Mill Trust, River, near Dover
One of the most complete and working examples of a Georgian watermill in Europe. All staff are volunteers and “we are always on the lookout for more volunteers”
The UK’s first dedicated Black heritage centre, located in Brixton, SW2. Recruiting volunteers in areas including collection care, front of house and oral history transcriptions.
Volunteers play a very important role throughout the Museum helping to enhance our visitors' enjoyment and understanding of the collection and also supporting the Museum. Long term volunteering opportunities include tour guiding, facilitating object handling sessions for the public and helping out at events
As well as welcoming people at the Museum Information Desk and stewarding the galleries, our volunteers can lead tour groups around the Museum and help out at public events. Our volunteer team enjoys special exhibition private views, seasonal parties and group visits to other museums and galleries. Located in WC1.
A museum exploring homes and home life from 1600 to the present day. Volunteers work at a wide range of events and activities including with children’s holiday activities; manning our quiz desk which has over 60 quizzes for children aged 5-15; at summer family days and other family events; with basic administration and as a guide in the restored almshouse. Shoreditch, E2.
Handel and Hendrix Museum, Brook Street, W1
Front of house and weekend support volunteers.
Horniman Museum, Forest Hill, SE23
Volunteers enable visitors to have closer contact with the museum’s collections through the hands-on displays in Nature Base, the object-handling trolley and in the gardens during the summer.
London Transport Museum, Covent Garden
Roles include cataloguing; assisting with schools visits and events; supporting museum hosts in the galleries. Sites in the City of London and Docklands.
Moving to Chelsea during 2016 and aiming to expand the opportunities for volunteering in wide range of roles across the Museum including collections care and management; community engagement activities; educational workshops; records management; research and study centre activities and visitor assistance.
Roles include social media, administration and events.
Includes the National Maritime Museum, Royal Observatory Greenwich, Cutty Sark and Queen’s House. Looking for people who are passionate about maritime history, astronomy, art or architecture.
The project is a joint initiative between the Paddington Development Trust and St Mary Magdalene Church which will transform the church building into a heritage, community, culture and arts hub in order to enrich, regenerate and bring greater cultural cohesion to the local area, while continuing to be a place of worship. During the building works period we have really exciting volunteering opportunities for Conservation Volunteers. The Conservation Volunteers will be supporting the conservator in the hands-on, practical conservation work at the church, including the magnificent painted ceiling. We are also planning for a small number of two-month long conservation internships.
Over 1700 volunteers in roles from visitor interpretation to events management.
Represents over 1600 historic houses and gardens throughout the UK
Five branches around the UK, in London, Manchester and Cambridgeshire, presently supported by more than 1000 active volunteers with fieldwork, conservation, and interpretation being amongst the many roles available
The National Association of Decorative & Fine Arts Societies (NADFAS)
Opportunities include conservation, cataloguing, stewarding in museums, historic houses or gardens; research and recording
Over 100 regional volunteers assist the Trust with monitoring and reporting the condition of war memorials; researching the history of war memorials and applying for the listing of memorials; assisting with local projects; giving talks and promoting the charity locally.
Regularly recruits volunteers to work at the Wordsworth museum in the Lake District
Other Useful Links
- “I Want to Work in the Heritage Sector”
- “I Want to Work in Archaeology”
- School of History Employability Portal on Moodle
- Museum Jobs - jobs in museums world-wide, both paid and voluntary
- The Museums Association
- Do-It - Search for volunteering opportunities by interest (including Museums and Heritage) and location
Many heritage organisations will require all their volunteers to apply for the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check, even if your volunteer role does not normally bring you into contact with children or other vulnerable groups. The DBS is a government-run service that checks whether applicants have a criminal record or are on the DBS Barred List of people that the Disclosure and Barring Service have deemed unfit to work or volunteer with children or adults. The check is free for volunteers that require it.
If you are required to have a DBS check, the organisation offering the volunteering opportunity will give you a form to complete. You will also need to provide original documents confirming your identity.
Once you are registered with the DBS, you can use the update service to view your details and take your certificate from one post to the next. This service is free for volunteers.
Find Out More
While a degree is an essential first step to a museum or heritage career, this is not a field where you are likely to find “graduate training schemes”, and there is no one set career path. Getting experience through volunteering and internships is the key to establishing a career in this sector – see below for advice on finding this experience. Other tips include:
- Be patient;
- Be resilient;
- Be flexible;
- Be focused and enthusiastic - this is more important than knowledge when you are applying for internships;
- Have the right motivation;
- Read museum blogs and journals;
- Go to exhibitions and make notes about how they are organised and laid out; read reviews;
- Pursue postgraduate study & training: but no degree can prepare you for all the day to day practical skills you need on the job;
- Seize opportunities at entry level;
- Don't expect to walk into a curatorial role. On the job training via internships etc is essential;
- Plan and be prepared for low to middle income salary, offset by fantastic experiences!
(Based on presentations by the Community Engagement Curator at Reading Museum and the Senior Curator of Prints and Drawings at Royal Collection Trust)
This is usually through volunteering, but there are some paid posts and internships available for students and graduates – English Heritage, for example, regularly recruits Seasonal Visitor Assistants to work at sites including Dover Castle and St Augustine’s Abbey.
"Get a foot in the door, even working in museum coffee shops - you will see opportunities in staff rooms and if you work well in a volunteer or junior role you will be in with a chance. This will help when you are up against 200 other candidates with similar qualifications."
"Once you're in a property you can connect with other people, there and in other regions. The bigger the property the better for volunteering as it will have more roles. Only about half of National Trust volunteers are room stewards, others do conservation, cleaning, retail, catering, grounds, etc”
Modules in some Academic Schools at Kent include internship opportunities in the heritage sector. If you are unable to undertake one of these modules, your School may also help to arrange informal work experience placements.
- School of History – see also the School’s blog “From Essays to Employability”
Make speculative applications to museums – you can use the Museum Association’s “Find a Museum” database to find museums in your local area, or which have a theme that fits in with your degree or your interests. Other useful resources include:
- Do-It is a site where you can search for volunteering opportunities by interest (including Museums and Heritage) and location
Some postgraduate courses in Heritage Management and Museum Work
A postgraduate degree in these areas will improve your chances of entry but will by no means guarantee you a job in the heritage sector.
The postgraduate courses at Leicester and UCL are both highly regarded, but generally where you did your MA is less important than your practical experience of museums and working with the public.
Few, if any, bursaries are available, so it is likely that you will have to be prepared to self-fund the course.
See our postgraduate study pages for help on how to find other postgraduate courses and to apply for these courses.
Other useful websites and resources
- The Museums Association
- London Museums Group - Represents all London museums and those who work in them, both paid workers (from curators and cafe staff to directors and documentation assistants) and volunteers. The blog covers issues including training and volunteering.
- National Museum Directors Council represents the UK’s national and major regional museums. The site includes a jobs board.
- St Andrews Careers Wiki: Museums and Galleries
- South-East Museums Development Service - Manages museum development funding in the area. Site includes lists of networks.
- Association of Independent Museums
- Touring Exhibitions Group has a useful links section
- Guardian Cultural Professionals Network
- Culture 24 - “Latest news, exhibition reviews and features from UK museums, galleries, heritage and archaeology sites”
- Ask a Curator on Twitter
- European Museum Forum
- Heritage Portal
- Network of European Museum Organisations
- UNESCO World Heritage Convention
The Museum Services directory contains over 500 companies and consultants, plus over 1,200 entries in 120 different product and service categories from Audioguides to Visitor Studies Consultants.