This year, when booking for the IWA National Festival at Cassiobury Park, I ticked the tiny box which indicated I'd like to volunteer to help. I had no idea what I might be letting myself in for, so, if you are thinking of volunteering in the future, I hope this post might give you some idea of what to expect.
First, it seemed to take a long time to get any information about what I was going to do. I found an e-mail address for the person who knew about volunteering and discovered that I was to be on Gates T/H, and was told my hours (two on the Friday and two on the Saturday). I e-mailed back to ask what Gates T/H meant, but didn't get the answer. I wondered when I might expect any joining instructions for the festival. I had been told our mooring location but had had nothing by post. A few days before going to the boat to start our cruise down the GU to Watford I phoned the festival office. Following the options I found myself put through to the mobile phone of an organiser who was actually boating at the time. Somehow she had thought I was going to be arriving at the site a couple of weeks early - well, no, I hadn't been asked to - and said she would post the boaters' preliminary information to me.
The impression I got was that I should already have known how things worked and what was going to happen. This was not the case. The envelope arrived on the morning we drove to Milton Keynes to join Jubilee. Phew!
So what did Gates T/H mean? I still didn't know. Perhaps I would find out when I signed in as instructed at 1000 on the first day (the Friday).
At last! Not Gate T or Gate H, but Tickets/Hand stamping! In other words, I was to be a ticket checker/collector and/or hand stamper for those requiring exit passes. I was issued a blue volunteer's T-shirt and asked to be at the gate at 1400. I had to sign a health and safety form, one of the ludicrous parts of which was that I had to "stop work if approached by a member of the public". On gate duty? Checking the public's tickets? I don't think so!
In the blazing sun, therefore, I turned up a few minutes early so I could see what to do, and then I did it. There was no training and almost no instruction. I wasn't shown how to distinguish a genuine ticket from a fake. Most arrivals had just bought their tickets from the box office, though, so most of the time it was simply a case of taking the tickets and allowing the people to retain their receipt, then directing them through the turnstiles. Boaters, campers and exhibitors had wristbands. These were waved straight through the turnstiles.
The turnstiles were there to keep a tally on how many were in the site at any time in order to satisfy the council's strict numbers limit (not that this would have been a problem this year). People leaving had to exit via the turnstiles which would register an exit count. People with buggies, bicycles or wheelchairs were let through a gate bypassing the turnstiles. In order to keep the tally correct one of the volunteers had to manually push the turnstile the requisite number of clicks. Annoyingly, some blueshirts, presumably higher up the feeding chain, took it as their right to come and go via the bypass gate rather than use the turnstiles. The other, more experienced gate volunteers simply shrugged and let them get on with it without counting them out or in.
There were four of us blue-shirted volunteers on this duty at any time. On my first shift it wasn't very busy, but the second shift was 1200 to 1400 on the Saturday, which saw many more people come through. The four of us divided up our tasks: one on bypass gate duty, one taking tickets, one checking wristbands and returning hand-stamped people. I looked after the ink pad and stamp, branding those who wanted it.
Despite the apparent laxity I enjoyed being part of the operation, but felt I was missing out by not having helped with the initial setting up of the site. Had I been there to help earlier I might have known that there was water available - even tea - while on gate duty. At the end of my shift I merely walked back into the site again. It was good to help, as I say, but the end felt a bit damp-squibbish.
I hope I haven't given you the impression that I didn't enjoy it or think it was worth it. I was glad to be able to help in what was though, I think, a very small way.
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