The other day, I became ‘part of the family’. In other words, I completed the core training necessary to become a Hull 2017 City of Culture volunteer.
There’s a lot of cynicism surrounding volunteering, and I do sometimes ask myself why I’m planning on giving up some of my precious time for free next year. How will I fit it all in? Will I be able to at all?
I work for myself and have a load of extracurricular commitments, so I don’t have a lot of spare time. Why on earth did I sign up to this? Well, I just wanted to be involved on some level, firstly. Next year is set to be an utterly magical year in the history of Hull, and being behind the scenes of spectacular events like Place des Anges and the Sea of Hull sounded like too good an opportunity to miss, frankly. During the training we were asked what was the lasting memory of the 2012 London Olympics – and the unanimous reply was: “The Games Makers”. Hull 2017’s army of volunteers – who have yet to be named (I submitted “The Hullpers”) – have a chance to welcome people into our city, many for the first time, and help give them an experience they’ll never forget.
The great thing about signing up to be a volunteer appears to be the fact you don’t have to commit to hours and hours, or even a minimum number of events – you just give up the time you have, when you have it. There is an online system that allows you to log in and see what shifts are available, and you can book them well in advance. You also get a groovy uniform (which, I assume, you can keep). I probably won’t be able to commit to loads of things, and some of the roles I’m interested in might well be office-based, but even if I gave up just a week out of the year, that will both be invaluable to Hull 2017 and will no doubt make for some amazing personal memories.
Some might argue that a lot of the roles carried out by volunteers are far more involved than just showing people around, smiling and greeting; yes, some of the work will require skilled and trained professionals. I hope to help with a bit of design or writing expertise. Why would I do this for nowt? Why aren’t they paying people like me in the first place?
I’m doing it because I believe in the cause. This is my city, I’ve lived here all my life, and I just think it’s worth putting a little back into. You may say the organisers of Hull 2017 are taking the piss, and you may be right – I don’t know. There is the temptation to think those at the top are creaming it off while the minions do the graft. There will no doubt be people on a fantastic wage, and they must be held accountable if things don’t go as planned. But I just don’t think there is the cash floating about to pay the 4,000 people who will be needed to make this thing work. And we NEED it to work. If it does work, it could provide the boost to our economy we’ve been longing for for ages.
Just look at the Sea of Hull – every hotel room booked out and half a mil into the city’s economy. For ONE event. The Hull 2017 Pioneer Volunteers who gave their free time in the middle of the night helped achieve that. They may not have been paid directly… but the city as a whole benefited hugely. And isn’t that worth giving up just a few hours now and then?
I think most people would admit there are some mercenary reasons for signing up, too. Personally, I’m hoping that I might meet a few more people in the media industry. Who knows, I might make lasting connections that may lead to new opportunities in the future. And yes, of course I want first dibs on tickets for ace stuff like the Places des Anges. Aside from the fun, it’s not wrong to want a bit of a payoff from volunteering. That’s how the system should work.
I’m the first person to urge people not to hawk their talents around for free. I’ve said it elsewhere in this blog. But I think this is different. There were people from all walks of life and of all ages at the training sessions (which were well organised, and hugely engaging and inspiring). They have all signed up to pitch in and do it for Hull. Giving up your time does not always have to mean you’re being exploited. It’s not slave labour, it’s going just a little further to do your bit.
So I’m really looking forward to doing my bit, however much or little that is. I don’t want to hear any more moaning. Everyone back to ours – let’s do this!
And here’s a great little video featuring Hull legend and good friend Mick McGarry: