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Wavemakers: Unicorn's Volunteering Principles

HMS Unicorn celebrates a year of  delivering change and opportunities for those that need it most.    

12 months after instituting "Wavemakers", Unicorn's new volunteering principles, the Unicorn Preservation Society can celebrate a year of success.

In summer 2021 the Unicorn Preservation Society took stock of its volunteering programme. Although with only 2 permanent full time staff, HMS Unicorn has over the years built up dozens of working partnerships with charities and other third sector organisations, and although  we could point to some high quality volunteering and training opportunities, we were still approaching volunteering with a "what can they offer us" approach, tailored to our own needs and wants. 

In 2021 the Unicorn Preservation Society adopted a Mission and Vision statement:


Our mission is to deliver a world class museum experience, work continuously to safeguard the future of HMS Unicorn, and care for our collections while making them accessible to all.



Our vision is to inspire those who visit and work with us, offering lifelong learning and engagement opportunities for our local communities and beyond.

With this in mind we saw there was scope to redesign and re-focus our volunteering programme to better fit our vision and mission, and so created Wavemakers, our guiding volunteering principles which put the volunteer first. 


The Principles:

The three principles of Wavemakers are:


  1. Partnerships allow us to do better work with more people.
  2. Put interpersonal relationships first: volunteers work with people not with heritage.
  3. Volunteers are not 'ours'. If they move on to further things, we've done our job. 


We also for the first time integrated data collection into our volunteering programme and so were able to measure our impact for the first time. From a sample of 42 registered volunteers over this period, we can demonstrate excellent diversity in age, socio-economic background and education.

Case Study: Tony

Tony joined the museum in February 2022 as a volunteer before being hired as a member of staff in July

"I started volunteering to help my own personnel journey after a long period of physical and mental health issues. I was referred to HMS Unicorn through a charity who helped me decide that it would be a great place for me to gain some new skills and help me get back to being a positive and active person once again, through positive action and some work experience. 

Volunteering at HMS Unicorn I have developed new skills and been able to build up my confidence and physical abilities which has helped me get back to a sense of normality and a sense of achievement that I can do something positive, productive, and get me back to the right place with my people skills and interaction in a working environment, all while helping preserve a great piece of history which is a fantastic maritime museum. 

This has been through a series of learning processes from some great members of staff who have taught me a lot and supported me through my journey at my own pace. They have also helped my mental wellbeing by being friendly, constantly positive in what I do and teaching me new skills as well as being supportive in my actions and always listen to any ideas or actions that I have suggested making the Frigate a better environment for everyone

Due to my time so far on this amazing ship I have been offered a job on HMS Unicorn which I never expected to be able to do. This has been a positive boost to my mental and physical health as it shows that I am capable of doing more than I thought, while hopefully making some new friends for life who I enjoy working with and have helped saved me from feeling forgotten in society. 

I can say that it might not of solved all of my issues. but it has helped me to be more positive and feel more human again."



1. "Partnerships allow us to do better work with more people."

We now work closely with charitable partners to target individuals who face barriers to engagement, work or education. For the year running July 2021 to July 2022 we can point to 42 different organisations that we have partnered with to deliver projects, placements and programmes for volunteers - drastically increasing our capacity beyond what 2 staff would otherwise achieve. Partners include Museums Galleries Scotland (two projects, first offering paid EDISH placements and the second offering employability workshops at a local school), PAMIS, Wellbeing Works, Enable Scotland, Project Scotland, Apex, Barnado's and many others. These partnerships with specialised charities allowed Unicorn to offer safe spaces for people who can also take advantage of needed extra support from the partner charity, which we could not offer ourselves.  

As part of a broader community consultation, in May 2022 Unicorn received feedback from 14 of its regular partners: 

  • 40% of respondents had partnered with Unicorn once and found this to be a positive experience.
  • 60% had worked with Unicorn on more than one occasion and felt these were all positive experiences.
  • There were no negative experiences recorded.
  • 60% stated that working with Unicorn had helped their organisation achieve its goals and 33% felt that through the partnership, they learnt ways to improve future partnership working.
  • In relation to working with Unicorn, the comments recorded were all positive, especially regarding the professionalism of Unicorn staff. Example comment: ‘HMS Unicorn were welcoming, pro-active and created an excellent opportunity for a young person’
  • 50% of respondents stated that the partnership with Unicorn involved placing volunteers. Of these organisations, 84% recorded that the feedback received from volunteers was positive. 16% recorded that no feedback had been received.
  • Example comments: ‘Staff very helpful and friendly. Although there on unpaid work, never made to feel different from other volunteers’ ‘Always got regular updates on how our customers were progressing’
  • 100% of respondents stated they would work in partnership with Unicorn again in the future. Example comments: ‘Projects have been delivered on time, in a professional manner and of a high quality; activities have been engaging’ ‘Great to work with’


 Our volunteers are, compared to similar museum programmes, very young - almost half under the age of 25. 

 Over two thirds of our current volunteers self-identify has having a disability. 

  We can also point to almost half of our volunteers being resident in the lowest-scoring half of the SIMD. 


2. "Put interpersonal relationships first: volunteers work with people not with heritage."

We re-cast and formalised our volunteer roles and agreements to create opportunities that would benefit the most number of people, moving away from the more specialised roles we used to offer. Volunteer agreements were re-written with the volunteer foremost, and the Volunteering, Engagement and Learning Officer taking the role of personal mentor. What is not shown in graphs is the sheer diversity of stories and lived experiences of each volunteer coming to Unicorn, and how that person benefits and grows through mentoring, socialising and routine. 


3. "Volunteers are not 'ours'. If they move on to further things, we've done our job."

This aspect was the largest culture shock. We are so used to striving to retain volunteers for as long as possible that their moving on is seen as a failure. At Unicorn we decided that the best marker of social benefit of the volunteer programme was where volunteers went as a result of their time with us: "Volunteers are not 'ours'" is exemplified by the number who within the year moved onward to further education or employment in the last year - 60 and 68% percent respectively - with many, if not most attributing their move to their experiences on board Unicorn. 

This was perhaps the most life-changing aspect of the Wavemakers programme. 




Case Study: Courtney

Courtney joined the museum as a volunteer in July 2021

"During my time at the Unicorn, I have never felt so welcome and included within our little group on board. Every person I have met has been so kind and helpful and are always willing to take the time to help you improve your skills whether that be public speaking, learning a little admin or just general tasks on how to maintain the Unicorn.

To me, volunteering at the Unicorn was the best decision I've ever made, it's improved my confidence massively, my mental health has been so much better, it really gives me a reason to leave the house and I always look forward to coming on board.

Since leaving school and college my memory retention skills and reading had really went south but being a volunteer tour guide has helped me improve my memory so much and ignited my passion for reading again which I'm very grateful for. Overall, I am super grateful to everyone on board for making me feel like I can achieve what I want to do and inspiring me to have the confidence to want to apply to uni at last!"


Embedded Practice

As a result of this project, Unicorn has embedded in its practise the Wavemaker values and so will continue to deliver change to the lives of our volunteers long into the future, beyond the initial lifespan of the project. 

If you have been inspired to volunteer, you can find out more about how to do so here

Full Report 

You can download a copy of the anonymised 2021-2022 data here.

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