Thursday, 30 April 2015

The Rotas are Released! Unleash the Volunteers!

Some might say that waiting for the volunteer rotas to be announced for the upcoming  Norfolk & Norwich Festival can be as exciting as the walk up to school to collect your GCSE results. That may be a slight over-exaggeration, but for many of us the two weeks of the festival have been blocked off in our diaries for so long in advance, and our anticipation has been growing since the programme was announced, and we first put forward our names and confirmed our availability as volunteers back at the beginning of March.

For those of us that have volunteered before, we have a good idea what to expect and, speaking personally, last year's experiences were so rewarding that the final wrap party at Keir Hardy Hall potentially could have ended tinged with disappointment. It wasn't - it was a blast of an evening, attended by everyone from the Executive Team, as well as the office and production staff and the volunteers. But it did signal a return to normality and routine after two weeks of intense cameraderie and fun. (This year's party will be at 'The Talk' in Oak Street)

Many of this year's volunteers are involved with the WildWorks production of 'Wolf's Child' over at Felbrigg Hall near Cromer, either as part of the Maid's Chorus or as a Crow Steward. They have been busy rehearsing and being fitted with costumes for what promises to be a spectacular and atmospheric show, with the audience being led through the grounds of the hall as the sun falls, transforming the woods into a magical world of adult fairytale. Certainly the reports back from Felbrigg suggest that this is an event not to miss. Fortunately, I get to attend for a preview performance as a Box Office Assistant / Coach Chaperone. Hopefully I will also catch a bit of the action.

The sheer scale of Wolf's Child, with eighteen performances of the two-hour show, has placed a huge logistical challenge at the door of our two Volunteer Co-ordinators, Polly and Lizzie. With so many volunteers tied up with rehearsals and performances at Felbrigg, they have had to ensure that the remainder of the events in Norwich are stewarded, that drivers are in place to transport artists and equipment between sites, and that runners can liaise between the festival office and the event managers. The Adnams Spiegeltent in Chapelfield Gardens, home to many of the evening performances, owes its unique atmosphere as much to its volunteer team of Spiegelhosts as it does to its construction and elaborate mirrored interior.

The task of allocating shifts is further complicated by the huge variety in availability of the volunteers. Some are able to help for virtually the entire duration of the festival, others have family, work or study commitments that mean they can only offer a couple of evenings. There are those that are offering to perform a number of roles, whilst others are more restricted in what they can do. The policy has been to ensure that all successful applicants are given a share of the shifts. That is 130 individual rotas that have needed to be prepared.

The rotas were revealed to us on Monday, and the Facebook group page was soon buzzing with postings to find out what everyone had got. Obviously, people's situations change, and inevitably there will be appointments and personal commitments that have arisen since availability was submitted back in March. This now has to be fed back, and those shifts re-allocated, so some volunteers will still be offered more shifts than appear on their original rotas. Polly and Lizzie will issue a revised follow-up rota prior to our final briefing at The Forum next week. I guess this really highlights how important it is to keep them completely up to date with any changes in availability as soon as possible, especially after the rotas are received.

Polly and Clare reveal just one of four spreadsheets used in producing the volunteer rotas, whilst Tim attempts to spot his own name on the rota. 

I know that I was waiting to receive my own rota before committing to buying tickets for other festival events. Now that I have booked to see other performances, I need to remove those dates from my availability.

Once the festival is under way, situations still arise where volunteers will have to withdraw from certain shifts, but these gaps are normally filled via daily e-mails from the festival office. I know that last year my initial allocation of five shifts was steadily boosted as the fortnight progressed. My advice to any volunteers who did not get as many shifts as they were hoping for is to keep checking your e-mails throughout the two weeks. You may also get news of free and discounted ticket offers - last year we were offered a number of free tickets (on a first-come first served basis) for several events, and also a heavily discounted offer for a flagship production at the UEA.

So, we have had our training, and now know how to deal with anything from a lost child to a noisy sweet wrapper in a classical concert. We have perfected the art of lining up in birthday order, and can sort ourselves out into groups of five without knocking over our drinks and coating the Arts Centre floor in red wine. We are busy swatting up on all the performances and venues, and checking out the location of the public toilets. We have worked out how to layer up and down beneath our blue volunteer T-shirts in order to respond to the vaguaries of May temperatures, and have dusted down our bum-bags and rucksacks for our personal belongings. Sensible shoes and sunscreen patiently await.

Basically, we should all now be ready for our final briefing at The Forum on Thursday (after we have all voted, of course), and to receive our volunteer packs and T-shirts, and to pose for a group photograph. After that, unleash the volunteers, and let the fun commence!

The Norfolk & Norwich Festival website, with full details of all events, and links to the booking office is

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