This month I had the opportunity to volunteer at the Birmingham Literature Festival (4th – 14th October 2018) and thought I’d share my experience with you!
This festival is organised by Writing West Midlands and happens every year around the same time. It’s a two week-ish long festival with a variety of events based around the book world for those who are interested. Each event is ticketed but prices vary depending on the size of the event and the popularity of the topic. Every year they look for volunteers (no experience needed) to help run their events. You could be asked to set up stages, hand out leaflets, point visitors in the right direction or welcome people to an event. This is a great way for someone to gain an understanding of running events, how festivals are organised or even just a great way for book lovers to be exposed to some wonderful bookish events!
This part of the process was particularly easy. A few months prior to the festival I signed up to an email blast that registered my desire to volunteer. After a while, I received an email from Writing West Midlands to ask my availability. You could select as many, or as few, dates and time slots as you liked, making the process really flexible around whatever other commitments you may have. Also, signing up for the email months in advance doesn’t mean that you have to volunteer come October, you are simply registering an interest in the festival but can opt out later if you choose.
Over the ten-day festival, I volunteered for six shifts, covering a wide range of events. For some, I was asked to help move furniture to set up stages, help out backstage, check ticket lists, hand out tickets or leaflets to visitors, or even to be a human signpost and send attendees in the right direction. None of this was particularly difficult but it did mean that I was on my feet a lot during the longer shifts. This was fine for me but maybe something to consider if that could be an issue for you. Also, some of the set decorating involved moving some heavy furniture which, again, was fine for me but may be something else for you to consider. The staff were all very friendly so I’m sure that they could find you other jobs to do should there be a problem.
Over my time volunteering for the Birmingham Literature Festival, I was lucky enough to meet lots of lovely people. Other volunteers, employees of Writing West Midlands and the event speakers themselves were all quick to offer advice or a smile, making it a wonderful atmosphere to be a part of. It was lovely to see that attendees of the events were all genuinely excited about what they had come to see and that attitude really was infectious! Being able to listen to the speakers give talks on their subjects was brilliant as it was so obvious that they were passionate about the topics and that really had a positive effect on the event. Even as someone who isn’t a huge poetry fan, I really enjoyed the National Poetry Day event where poets from the West Midlands read some of their work, mostly because they all sounded so enthusiastic and impassioned about what they were talking about, creating an intense but captivating atmosphere for the audience.
Tips for Volunteers:
If you’re thinking about volunteering next year, I wholeheartedly recommend it! The shifts are flexible and the organisers are very good at changing shifts should something come up and you are unable to make it. If you enjoy the world of books and literature then this is a brilliant opportunity for something to do as a hobby, to add to your CV or even to meet some likeminded people! My main tips for volunteering would be:
- Make sure you check the weather forecast on the days that you’re volunteering. You may be outside so a warm coat/umbrella/comfy shoes would be a necessity.
- Make the most of it! You’re going to be around people who can offer advice from various points of view about the book industry – if this is something that you’d want to go into, talk to as many people as possible.
- Go to the events. While they may not all be your cup of tea, you may be able to watch some events that you’re volunteering at – they’re all chosen for a reason and all of the ones that I was lucky enough to see were amazing!
- Bring a refillable water bottle and something to snack on. You’ll be able to take breaks during your shifts to grab a drink or snack (and usually tea/coffee and small snacks will be provided) but there may not be near a shop and refreshments at the locations may be expensive.
- Remember that shifts are flexible. If you really can’t do a shift, in my experience, the staff are really accommodating and can arrange cover. Also, on the other side of this, there seems like there will always be an opportunity for you to pick up extra shifts if that’s something you can/want to do.
- Look up your venue. Some are easier to find than others and some may be easier/quicker for you to get to. Make sure you check this beforehand so you can plan your journey.
- No experience is necessary. You don’t need to have volunteered before or have a lot of experience with the running of events as staff members will always be there to tell you what to do.
- Have fun! Volunteering with the BLF was a really fun experience and one I thoroughly enjoyed!
I really enjoyed this opportunity and would definitely encourage anyone with an interest in literature to give it a go! The shifts are flexible, the events are incredibly interesting, the people are lovely and the locations are gorgeous – there’s really nothing to lose.
Have you volunteered with your local Literature Festival before? What was your experience like? Have you volunteered at the Birmingham Literature Festival before? Or maybe you’ve been to some of the events? I’d love to know!