It’s funny being a volunteer. After 10 years as a salaried slave, I keep almost forgetting that I’m not being paid for my current job. At the end of each day, my lovely colleagues say goodbye with a ‘thanks so much for all your help today’, which is rather wonderful and strange at the same time. When I came in the other day, the senior Festival producer asked ‘What are you doing here so early??’. It was five minutes to nine. Five to nine being considered early is certainly new to me, after so many mornings dragging myself out of bed at some ungodly hour to get the 7am train into London or Preston. And I still feel guilty when I plan to get in ‘early’ (say, 8.30am) and somehow don’t quite manage to leave the house until 10 past nine – this because, as everyone knows, there is a direct inverse correlation between the distance one is required to travel and one’s ability to get organised.
Anyway, my point is that it is difficult to shake off my apparently quite ingrained and probably culturally determined Calvinist work ethic. Which is entirely a positive thing, of course. The temptation would be to ‘take it easy’ at work, given the fact that I am not being paid and that my actual volunteering duties are not too taxing. But, whilst lie-ins and early finishes are nice, it would be completely missing the point if I didn’t grab every opportunity to get involved with whatever is going on. I’m in a unique position to experience what is involved in making the Brighton Festival happen, and I want to get as much out of it as I possibly can.
At the same time, I’m aware of my position as a newbie to this particular area of work, so I’m keen to do whatever needs doing: whether that’s spending a morning in the bowels of the Brighton Dome to stuff leaflets into 500 artist goodie bags with a team of other volunteers, or making travel bookings for a theatre company, or translating subtitles from German into English for one of the shows. The Festival starts next weekend and activity in the office is getting increasingly frantic, which means that people are starting to knock on my door more and more frequently to say ‘Anne, if you’re not too busy…’. I take that as a compliment, particularly when people trust me with more responsible tasks. I’m actually really looking forward to the madness of the Festival when hopefully more things will be thrown my way and I’ll properly be catapulted out of my comfort zone.
Like most cultural events, the Brighton Festival depends significantly on volunteers: around 150 people will give up their time for free as stewards, runners, invigilators, artist meet & greeters, bloggers, production assistants, information givers, coordinators and extras. Some of them are retired people, you get a lot of students, as well as some people who have recently been made redundant and haven’t worked out yet what to do next. A lot of them are very well-qualified, although inevitably there are a fair few oddballs too. It’s been good fun meeting some of the other volunteers and also seeing how the Festival works out who to place where. There is plenty for everyone to do, even the oddballs.
When volunteering works well, it is a really good thing: everyone gets something out of it. It would be nice to imagine a world where events like the Brighton Festival could afford to pay everyone, but if that were the case something would also be lost. There is something wonderful about people deciding to offer their services for free – and I feel quite lucky to be in a position where I can offer myself for free full-time. Thankfully, my volunteer application didn’t appear to have been filed under ‘oddball’ and I managed to secure one of the most interesting unpaid roles. Now it’s up to me to make the most of it.