When I was at school, the first day back after the summer holidays we always had to write an essay entitled “What I did on my holidays”. I’m not at school any more, it’s not even September yet, but it seems the right thing to do for this week’s column.
My holiday this year was spent in the Black Mountains in Wales at the Green Man Festival. Green Man is what used to be called a Pop Festival. If you need to know genres it’s a curious mix of folk and indie. We’d been before, but this year we went as volunteer stewards.
Now, some of you will remember that I spend much of the year putting together Beeston Festival. Green Man sounds like a bit of a busman’s holiday right? My Other Half is a social worker and when she volunteered this information to Paddy the chief steward he gently thanked her and said “But you’re here for a break, we’ll only call on you if we have to.”
The basic deal is that that you get a free Festival ticket in return for working three, six hour shifts over the weekend. Money is tight in our house this year so it seemed a good way to get to a festival.
What I realised as the festival went on was that what I had signed up for was much more than a financial transaction. I spent much of a quiet night shift trying to work out exactly why I was having such a good time asking people “Can I see your wristband please?” Cynics might say I was on a power trip, but actually stewards have very little power. What they can do is help people enjoy the festival by being helpful, knowing where things are on site, where to get help if needed. Most of all by doing everything with a smile.
The capitalist transaction of buying a ticket and being entertained is fine, but there’s a deeper relationship when you put your labour into the project. It’s to do with putting something back and being part of a great event. It’s about community.
What makes a place a community? Surely it’s the people and the social interactions between them. We all do favours for family and friends and you know that one day that favour will be reciprocated. Successful communities work on that principle, but scaled up so you do “favours” for strangers. What’s that awful line? “A stranger is just a friend I haven’t met yet.”
This is why I volunteer to do things in Beeston. I like to feel part of the community and I want the community I live in to be vibrant and full of interesting activities. I believe we lead interdependent lives and that we have a responsibility for each other’s well being.
This week we reported on the sad death of Richie O’Coy after a battle with cancer. Richie was a volunteer at the Hunslet Club, one of thousands of volunteers across south Leeds that keep our community ticking. Sports clubs, youth groups, churches and mosques, school governors, tenants and residents groups all depend on people like Richie. I think the best way to honour him and every other volunteer would be to go along and support the Hunslet Club’s Summer Gala on Sunday.
I’ll be back next week with more of my views from South of the River. If you’re on Twitter, you can follow me: @BeestonJeremy.