Volunteer and visitor relations

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Volunteer and visitor relations

by Christoph Heuer » 23.09.2010, 22:47

Hello all,

in the comments section of Richard Lomas' blog there is another lively discussion about volunteer and visitor relations: http://tramways.blogspot.com/2010/09/please-help.html

On there some opinions are raised which I believe are far from the objective truth. So here are my comments:

1. "The place is infested with too many self important tin pot Hitlers." (Pete, 20/9/10 14:55)

No, it is not. Actually, there is just a small, but noticeable, group of people who would like to run the place as they, and they alone, wish, ideally with people selected by themselves. Strictly speaking even those few are too many, but in my eyes they do not justify the term "infested".

2. "I challenge you to find one who actually cares about something other than their own interests." (The Editor - no online contact, 21/9/10 21:11)

Looking into the museum a bit closer you will find that at ground level people do care about something other than their own interests. If fact, they care about other members and the museum in general. Our own restoration of our driving licences proves the point. Many people bent over backwards to ensure we could come back. And we were difficult!

On the other hand, there are many people who will not live with a compromise and who do not appear to tolerate opinions other than their own. But, and this is important to note, they are on both sides of the arguments. There is no good and bad, rather bad and bad.

Staying with that topic, as we all volunteer we are by definition there because of our own interest, the manifestations of which do differ. I used to walk the track after closing time to collect litter. (H&S shock horror!) That was my own interest, I wanted to see it disappear. But it still benefitted the museum, I believe.

3. "Who is to blame? I know the answer to this - the board." (The Editor - no online contact, 21/9/10 21:11)

This is tricky as it seems to imply that there is something like a monolithic block called "The Board". In reality it seems to be more of a parliament with various parties present which have diverging opinions and get together in various and varying coalitions, which of course leads to:

4. "With good management none of the pointed out problems would be a problem." (The Editor - no online contact, 21/9/10 21:11)

This, however can not be challenged. It believe its true and important. Equally important is that comment:

5. "If the board doesn't function properly it is the membership who can (and should) boot them. If that doesn't happen, than the problem lies clearly with us as members. It is easy to blame someone else, but what have we done as members? " (Wim Beukenkamp, 22/9/10 8:54)

The board is elected and we elected the people. And yes, in the past we always had a choice and used it to some extend. Only the membership seems to be as divided as the board itself.

6. "It is frowned upon to criticise the all powerful board which is why I did not renew my membership several years ago" (Anonymous, 22/9/10 16:33)

This may have been true at the time when you decided not to renew your membership. Now with many people serving on the Board who probably were not on there when you left, this is no longer the case which highlights one problem: Much criticism comes from events which took place a comparatively long time ago and this criticism may no longer be justified, but due to a lack of first-hand experience people still criticise using an invalid base for criticism. One example would appear to be the attitudes of driving instructors where my wife and myself had the first ever friendly encounter with a driving instructor acting in that capacity this year.

7. "On each occasion I visit Crich (...)I inevitably end up virtually having a row with somebody because they feel the need to impart their opinion about other museums and Tramways (and of course they have to be right)." (Anonymous, 22/9/10 16:33)

You seem to be in the unfortunate position to encounter the same small band of people again and again. Yes, there are people who turned their enthusiasm about Crich and their pride in our achievements into unbearable intolerance and arrogance. Again they are a minority, even among leading volunteers, but they are prominent and usually long standing members.

Looking at matters objectively there are vast scopes for improvement, usually with other similar museums showing the way. My favourites are: Changing rooms with lockers, toilets and showers, mainly for workshop staff but also for tramcrews to save you from driving home for many miles in uniform but there are other areas.

8. "Oh, and a final thought - if Crich is better than anywhere else, why are 2, 167 and 273 currently sat in Rigby Road having rolled over and died?" (Anonymous, 22/9/10 16:33)

Actually, from reliable reports I get the impression that the reasons for the current status of said vehicles could not entirely be controlled by us but are rather a combination of circumstances some of which were beyond our control. This does not mean that Crich really is always better than anywhere else. To my knowledge in the most recent similar big events with guest vehicles, Amsterdam 2006 and Brussels 2010, the visiting vehicles all performed faultlessly.

You many reply if you wish, and remember, there is no need to register or reveal your name. Your reply will be visible immediately but you will not be able to edit it once it has been posted.

Christoph Heuer
Posts: 120
Joined: 10.01.2008, 00:00

by Advertising » 23.09.2010, 22:47


Volunteer and visitor relations

by TecDeLijn » 26.09.2010, 07:54

This is a bigger subject than can be covered here easily. I have spent much time thinking about it and feel that it would make a good study for a doctorate.

The first thing to understand is that it is a problem not unique to the TMS. It afflicts many organisations of a volunteer nature - I could give examples!

The next thing is to "understand" a volunteer. If we take a tram museum as an example, a volunteer will probably have an interest in trams, be willing to work there, have the time to work there and, hopefully, have the competance to do the work needed.

The latter point is the most often lacking.

It is here that the management needs to be especially skilled in order to guide the volunteer into areas where they are competant. However, it is here that the problem arises - who manages the managers?

People only get on the Board if they put up for election. Thus the members whose fault, we are told, it is that they have the Board they elected have a limited choice. The "selection" process also serves to put potential candidates off. Finally the use of Proxy votes gives the Board a chance to sway the results if sufficient blank proxies are returned.

The volunteer setup is the only way in which the museum can survive, it has grown large by means of outside income which enabled the employment of many staff who are now essential but a financial burden. The coming years will see significant changes and the Board needs to ensure that there is a happy and willing voluntary membership.

If this seems rambling it is because it is a complex problem. There is a problem and the Board needs to take a very hard look at it.

Re: Volunteer and visitor relations

by Christoph Heuer » 27.09.2010, 17:38


Thank you for this reply, both for the reply as such and for using this platform.

Do I understand you correctly that the "problem" you mention in the second paragraph is the recruitment and retention of a "happy and willing voluntary membership" mentioned further below?

Apart from that, we seem to be almost in complete agreement. I like the sentence "The next thing is to understand a volunteer" because I think the lack of that understanding is one of the key problems, even though the consequences, as I pointed out in my Journal article in April, appear to be relatively new to us. Guidance of volunteers, leadership in the best sense, seems to be lacking at the moment and probably has been lacking for years.

There are some point where my opinion diverges slightly. Even though blank proxies give the Board, actually the chairman of the AGM, an opportunity to influcence the outcome of an election I doubt that those have actually played a major role in the past. Quite frequently we have seen people elected who I do not regards as candidates chosen by the Board and I belive that one chosen candidate even fell through completely this year.

I also do not see the Board as the only ones who should have a look at the volunteer problem, which can indeed turn into a problem threatening the existence of the museum. I believe that all members should have a chance to get themselves involved in the solution, and if it is only on a very small scale. Looking at how we treat each other at ground level would be a good thing to start with. Talking to each other, even disliked persons, rather than about each other would be a good start. And with new electronic facilities like this it has never been easier to stay in touch, no matter where you are physically.

Christoph Heuer
Posts: 120
Joined: 10.01.2008, 00:00

Volunteer and visitor relations

by Graham Feakins » 01.10.2010, 04:55

The TMS does rather seem to be going through a distressed period but I think that perhaps it was almost always thus, or at least one clique did not talk to another. Substitute, e.g. Traffic Department/Operations on the one hand and "Workshop" on the other. Now add the third: The Board. I was told this last weekend that they are losing direction and is thus not functioning as it ought to.

I became involved at Crich in 1967 and by 1976 I was a Royal Tram Conductor, with the late, great and friendly Merlyn Bacon as my driver. We had such fun in those days and we gave clear enjoyment to our visitors, too. By 1986, I was driving another royal tram - Paisley 68 decorated for the Charles & Diana wedding.

Even in those early days, there were fractious folk and I put it down to local traits, e.g. Yorkshire, Lancashire, Glasgow, London etc. However, on the traffic side, I got on with most and indeed had some thoroughly enjoyable times as mid-week Duty Inspector when my annual leave permitted. I also worked in the workshop and on the overhead. Our formal training was called "Common Sense", alongside e.g. driving tests and various Crich manuals.

I certainly had my moments of just giving up listening to the antagonistic banter and went off down the pub. Indeed, it is true to say that at one time I had more friends in the village of Crich than on site and spent more time in the village. However, that achieved a positive effect, in that I made friends with the villagers and provided a useful link between them and the museum, which I am sure in itself eased some tension, especially whilst the museum was expanding.

Then, I was reminded of all this last weekend in Blackpool for the 125 celebrations. I had not been off the train 15 minutes when I was accosted by a well-known member at North Pier tram stop with the words "Why did you storm out 10 years ago?"! , Actually, assuming what he meant was not coming back to continue to drive, that was much more than 10 years ago. Nevertheless, he would not listen to the real reason, which was that by the time I arrived at Crich, there were insufficient rosters left in the year to get the hours in to maintain my driving licence. However, there was a terrible atmosphere around the place then anyway and it was not the happy experience of yesteryear. I lost the heart to make the effort, I suppose but also my own professional work plus living in London and selling my car all did not assist in persuading me that the effort was going to be worthwhile.

Whilst I retain a large number of friends at Crich and indeed probably have not lost any at all on my own account, it is thoroughly depressing to read and hear what is going on these days. The volunteer track gang was effectively sacked, the members of which are bound never to return, a former president is banned from acting as a museum guide, a competent member of the library is banned for life for I guess an outburst that one might expect and could be forgiven, a Tatra car is brought over at members' expense (I foolishly contributed £1K to that), only to be told that, if the right questions were asked, it would already be known that it was corrosively rotted in the first place, cars are withdrawn from service perhaps never to see running days in our lifetime again - vide Leicester 76, Blackpool Dreadnought 59, Sheffield cars etc., many of which trams I have driven at one time or another, track renewal and general restoration with scant regard to historical accuracy, London Transport 1622 running bare without any adverts etc. etc.

No, whilst I support the museum from my heart, my mind is much disturbed and I am seriously thinking of changing my will before I pop off to remove the bequeathed legacy to the TMS. Nevertheless, I remain loyal in the sense that I try to recommend others to visit because that all-important funding is required. To see me as a volunteer again will need some persuasion, although I think that is why I was being shouted at in Blackpool! Some want me back. I still have my uniform.

Staff No. 210.
Graham Feakins

Volunteer and visitor relations

by Graham Feakins » 01.10.2010, 05:24

Two further examples of the Crich 'attitude problem':

A volunteer interpreter - a long-standing and respected TMS member himself previously on the Board, was requested by the Board to attend for a day to interpret for a party of visiting German tram enthusiasts. That he did, as well as reading and replying to enquiries beforehand, taking up much time. He received not one word of thanks for his troubles, despite even a couple of subtle reminders of his work. Result - one upset member. And - never again will he accept such an invitation.

I was in St. Petersburg on one of Ian Longworth's tours to help celebrate 100 years of their tramways and there was a grand tour. There was a tour car which we could join. "Organising" the boarding and telling complete strangers, including many of us and local Russians, what to do and where to stand inside in no uncertain manner was a TMS member (former Board), which surprised, confused and annoyed several people. I said to him "Come on! Stop that! You are not at Crich now!" He ungraciously gave way. Yes, one of those "Tin-pot Hitlers" indeed. Even on holiday.
Graham Feakins

by Christoph Heuer » 02.10.2010, 20:45


I would like to thank you for taking the time to publish your experiences and opinions on here. I hope that others will follow and that we will get a bit closer to the question where the core problems are, and what to do about them.

To me it is disturbing to read that the lack of talk between distict groups of volunteers has been going on for, well, decades. To me this seems to be one of the main problems, people not talking to each other, but about each other. To me it is equally disturbing to read that "there was a terrible atmosphere around the place then anyway and it was not the happy experience of yesteryear" in a comment referring to more than ten years ago. I felt something similar but in about 2006/2007! I am rather pleased to say that in my eyes Crich in 2010 is a nicer place than Crich in 2007 and I hope it is not just my limited exposure which makes me think so.

On the subject of the big question of the key problems we face, I have gathered the following:

a) Individuals or groups of individuals do not talk to each other but about each other.
b) There are individuals (the "tin-pot Hitlers") who frequently get into the habit of telling people what to do and what not to do which usually annoys those subjected to them.

Any comments on that?

And finally, because it is my pet subject, I am not sure what the problems with 902 are and I doubt anyone will tell me officially. The doors are an issue, since they are too low for a person to walk through on a raised wheelchair lift and power consumption is another. The unusual controls do not help, but you are the first to mention corrosion, which sounds surprising to me, as the last major overhaul of the car was in 1996, eight years before the initial inspection and nine years before its acquisition.

I welcome all comments on all issues raised.

Kind regards

Christoph Heuer
Posts: 120
Joined: 10.01.2008, 00:00

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