Sunday, September 07, 2014

In praise of volunteers

so this is shamefully late in the day, but I wrote it on our narrowboat immediately after Greenbelt then had no mobile signal til reaching home this weekend. However late, it is, I promise, 100% wholehearted....a huge thank you to the countless wonderful people who together make one of the highlights of my year.

Greenbelt:  a site steward invites us to wave our wristbands in the sunshine as we join the long march from camp-site to Communion
Greenbelt: with rain pounding on the Big Top, where Martyn Joseph has just sung the last notes of the festival, and BHP Pip Wilson reads a Serious Announcement in a Serious Voice about dangers in trying to leave the site til morning
Greenbelt: as a smiling welcomer asks you if your journey was OK - so you suddenly decide that it was, even though it really really wasn't
Greenbelt: a member of the listening team sits patiently under an umbrella on an inflatable sofa doing her festival job of LISTENING - no matter what the weather
From the moment you turn off the road onto the farm tracks of the Boughton Estate, everything you experience depends on volunteers.
Of course there are those whose hard work and kindness you can't help but notice...those lovely site stewards who keep us safe as we womble about (I often find that I've failed to pack all of my faculties when heading for the festival);
the Venue Managers who have made their various spaces beautiful and tend them with loving care, making wave after wave of Greenbelters welcome in their temporary home; 
those who reunite parents and children, or (less alarmingly) cameras and other lost property and owners;
those who answer incessant, and sometimes impossible, questions at the info booth;
medics, nurses, fire crews and hospitality teams;
bar staff and G store sales teams;
those who record talks and process them for the rest of us;
those whose photographs delight and inspire us through the long Greenbelt-less winters;
site vibers, who turn fields and parkland into a wonderful playground (there's a whole team whose energy is devoted to flags and bunting! would you have guessed?)
Front tesk, where S and her team answer well-nigh any question you could possibly dream up;
children's workers, youth team, accessibility team  - and more and more AND MORE!
The public face of the Festival - which surely no-one can miss...though you might not think about how your speakers get to the site, about the driver teams that collect and deliver them from stations and air-ports all over the country, and often get up in the middle of the night to ensure that nobody misses an early flight, or the Night Stewards, who are are around as dependably as the 24 hour Cafe, but with much less attention.

And - beyond all this - have you ever thought about the countless volunteer hours that make Greenbelt a full-time job on top of the day-job for  that list of amazing people whose names appear on the back pages of the festival guide?
The festival actually employs just 8 - that's right EIGHT- paid staff - so everything else that happens depends on volunteers.
They do jobs that I can't even begin to get my head round.
They are people like my friend L...a senior engineer who combines all her engineering know-how with more wit and common-sense than most of the people I know put together, which makes her a genuinely indispensable head of operations. She spends weeks of her life (if you add up the endless hours spent after work) making sure the Greenbelt site is safe, functional and everything else that we take for granted.
Routes...onto and across the site...Walkways...Access...Site capacity...and all sorts of stuff I haven't grasped at all - simply wouldn't work without the Ops team, however much optimistic and impractical souls like me might imagine that several thousand people could just converge on a field and make a festival! She and S travel regularly from Manchester to London (while others travel as far but in other directions), give up weekends beyond number to site visits and ops team weekends, field dozens of Greenbelt related emails pretty much every evening...and they do this FOR LOVE!

And there are many many others like them...
For every single thing that happens - checking the Fair Trade credentials of the traders; ensuring there's somewhere to charge electric wheelchairs; recognising that a greenfield site will need a shop (let's ask our church - I'm sure they'll oblige - drawing yet more volunteers into the mix); drawing maps; managing electric safety checks; arranging for loos, and the emptying thereof; booking someone to clear away and recycle the rubbish...NOTHING happens without volunteers.
There is no distinction between "Greenbelt" and "the volunteers". The volunteers ARE the festival...

I'm very proud that all my children have chosen to make volunteering at Greenbelt part of their summer, even now that this involves sacrifice of actual annual leave...because it seems to me that the wonderful, wonderful army of Greenbelt volunteers is what makes the festival not simply 4 happy days at the end of the summer but a time when, no matter how short-sighted I may be, I cannot help but glimpse heaven.


Richard Amys said...

Thanks Kathryn - sorry to have missed you this year, but spent most of the day sleeping after night duty! God Bless, Richard (aka the Greenbelt 'Rector')

Jonathon Watkins said...

Great post and cheers for the nod to us photographers. Sorry I also missed you this year.